Potty Training and Down Syndrome

By Colleen Brunetti, MEd

Children who have Down syndrome may potty train somewhat later than their typically developing peers. Potty training tips written for most kids are likely to help with a child who has Down syndrome as well, but perhaps just a little later. Visit our Resources page for some ideas to get you started with potty training in general.

What follows is a series of common challenges and possible solutions to consider when potty training a child who had Down syndrome.

Challenge: You know a child with Down syndrome may potty train later than a typically developing child, but you’re not sure how long to actually wait.

tipSolution: Look for the same signs of readiness as you would for any child, but be aware that these signs may come a little later. One thing to keep in mind is that children with Down syndrome may have lower muscle tone overall, and this can impact bladder and bowel function, lending to the extra time needed in order to be ready to train.


Challenge: Most of the readiness signs seem to be there but your child just can’t sit still long enough.


Solution: Use what engages him. Bring in some small toys or books, sing songs together, or practice your signs. Be creative to keep him sitting there.


Challenge: Your child has a hard time sequencing or processing the steps necessary for using the potty.

tipSolution: Print out the Potty Time Sequence Cards, laminate and display in the bathroom. If your child needs the steps broken down even further, consider adding such steps as “Pull down pants”, “Sit still”, etc. Collaborate with your child’s special education teacher or other specialist who can help you come up with the appropriate steps for your child’s needs.


Challenge: You’re talking to lots of moms who have done this before with their little one with Down syndrome and the advice is conflicting.

tipSolution:  Take a deep breath and remember, just like with everything else, your child will train in his own time. It’s great to get advice and tips from those who have done this before, but put your own child’s personality and your instincts at the top of your list of things to pay attention to.



2 thoughts on “Potty Training and Down Syndrome

  1. I have a three and half year old grandson who was born with Down Syndrome and although we’ve been signing to him and his baby brother since birth (I’m an Interpreter) well Mason the baby brother will often use the signs for what he wants, Tylers main thing is “eat” and even though he knows other signs he doesn’t use them unless prompted and that’s only when he wants (he’s always on Tyler time lol.) He also isn’t walking yet what would be some good ideas with training him since he can’t walk to the bathroom yet?

    • Hi Karen,
      One thing to keep in mind with children who have Down syndrome is that there receptive language will often outpace their expressive language. So the first thing I want to encourage you to do is to keep signing since Tyler is likely getting wonderful language input from the practice. When he decides to voluntarily sign back to you he’ll have lots of tools to do so. Since he can’t walk yet, I suggest you start taking him on a schedule. Use a timer or our Potty Watch to remind you when to go. Sign the steps with him (You can download free visuals under the Resources page too). Aim for consistency. If he seems to have an internal schedule (always goes right after a nap or some time after he eats) be sure to work those times in as well. Above all, keep it fun and light. Sing songs. Sign. Play games. As you say, he’ll be on “Tyler time” and eventually he’ll put the big picture together and start to go on the potty. Good luck!