Potty Training Tips for An Autistic Child


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Apr 20 2012 - 9:51am
Autism spectrum disorders, World Autism Awareness Day, Autism Speaks

Toilet training a child is sometimes difficult to do even in the best situations. But add on top of that challenges such as autism, and parents can be overwhelmed by the task. Obviously, becoming independent with bathroom habits is critical as the child becomes older. With all the skills and resources parents have at their disposal, the most important for toilet training is patience.

Remember first that autism is not mental retardation or lack of intelligence. This is important to keep in mind when introducing new skills to an autistic child. However, the lack of appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication can make toilet training challenging.

Also understand that there are milestones that need to be achieved before attempting toilet training in even normally developing children. These include recognizing a child’s readiness for the task, such as being able to sit, walk, dress and undress, and the ability to recognize the bodily clues that indicate the need to use the bathroom. Positive reinforcement is recommended for any child tackling something new to them.

An autistic child, however, has impaired social interaction skills. They may not respond to the same motivation that a normally developing child would. For example, writes Danica Mamlet in “Autism and Toilet Training,” difficulties in comprehending language and logic may inhibit the ability to understand what is expected in regards to the toilet procedure. They may not understand it when you explain why they need to eliminate in the toilet and not in the diaper. They may also feel resistance to the change in routine, the stimulating environment of the bathroom (bright lights, noise coming from running water), and the change in temperature they feel when taking off their clothes.

In addition, a child with autism often has gastrointestinal problems that make a regular toilet training schedule a challenge. GI problems such as abdominal pain, bloating, gaseousness, constipation, and/or diarrhea are more prevalent in children with autism. Try to correct these problems if you can before toilet training, so that discomfort will not be yet another obstacle to overcome. For example, if your child is constipated, ensure he is drinking adequate amounts of water and eating enough dietary fiber to make stools soft and easier to eliminate.

For successful toilet training, Mamlet encourages the use of visual cues versus verbal cues. A system that uses picture icons with each step identified is recommended as a tool to teaching toilet independence. A consistent routine capitalizes on the autistic’s child need for repetition.


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To accommodate resistance to change, gradually introduce the bathroom routine over time. First have him or her enter the bathroom clothed, then clothed to sit on the toilet, then in diapers, and then unclothed. The use of separate potty chairs is not recommended, as the child would then have to transition later to the bigger toilet – yet another change to tackle. But do make sure the seat of the toilet is comfortable and secure.

If your child attends a preschool or day care, speak with the teachers about how you can follow their schedule at home as closely as possible. Open communication here can be very helpful as you exchange tips with each other on what is best for your child.


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Im raising my 5yr.old grandson. and he has Autism. in public school now. i trying to find ways to help him use the restroom/potty.
I also have a 5 year old In public school that is autistic. I have been trying so hard to at least make a start at getting him potty trained, but he gets so upset that I usually stop as I don't want to discourage the act from happening any time soon. His Autism is very mild, but still has very limited verbal communication. I have been able to get him to urinate in the potty on about 2 very far apart occasion and gave much praise but then when I would try again it was like the act never occurred and we started all over again. To make matter even more difficult me and his mother have not been together for a little over a year now and she chooses to have very little communication with me and I currently only have him on the weekends which makes it very hard to instill something in my baby boy in a 2 day a week schedule. Just wish I knew where to start!
more tips with child Austim non verbal .potty trained.
This is helpful for me.