While some children who have autism train around the same time as their peers, others may take longer to train or have behaviors specific to their autistic tendencies that will make potty training a little more of a challenge.
What follows is a list of common challenges children who have autism face when potty training, along with some possible solutions.We welcome your comments and additional ideas!
Challenge: Attachment to routine, such as diapers, may make a child resistant to the new routine of using the potty.
Solution: Introduce the idea of a bathroom routine slowly. Start with entering and staying fully dressed. Then move to sitting on the toilet still dressed, then to taking down pants to sit on the toilet as if to use it, etc. You may wish to do this even before your child is ready to train to give him all the time he needs to get used to the idea.
Some experts suggest you do not use a potty chair for children with autism as it adds one more step to the transition process, a step that may not really be necessary. Others will find the potty chair easier if their child is afraid of the big toilet or does not like the seat.
Challenge: A child with autism may have difficulty processing or following through on verbal or auditory cues when establishing a potty routine.
Solution: Use visual cues, such as our Potty Time Sequence cards. You can print, laminate, and display them in the bathroom. In addition, you may want to consider writing a social story that guides your child through this process. Check with your special educator or occupational therapist for help on creating this.
Challenge: There may be a disconnect in the central nervous system that results in the child not being aware of, or possibly not minding, the urge to eliminate or the sensation of having soiled pants.
Solution: A timer, such as the Potty Watch, may aide in this process because it does the alerting for your child, rather than relying on her internal cues which may not be getting through.
Challenge: A child with sensitivity to sensory input may be frightened by the sounds of automatic flushers or loud hand dryers found in public restrooms.
Solution: Carry post-it notes with you and place one over the flush sensor. This stops it from going off. For the hand dryers, simply let the child air dry hands or carry a wash cloth in a baggie and use that to dry off.
Challenge: Your child has a favorite character that you know would motivate them but you can’t find underwear to match. It’s all Cars and Princesses!
Challenge: You’ve tried everything you can think of and still feel like you’re not making the desired progress.
Solution: Call in the guard! Talk to your child’s pediatrician, Special Educator, ABA therapist, Occupational Therapist, etc. Like with many other things, an integrated team approach is often very helpful. Also remember that your child with autism may just take more time or need a very different approach, and that’s okay too.
A special thanks to Signing Time Academy Instructor Kim Fries , MA CCC-SLP of “Little Hands…Make Big Words” for lending her expertise to this article.