Can you potty train a kid with Autism?
I have 11 years experience with this, and I say – it depends on the kid. My daughter still isn’t fully in control of her body functions. Does she understand the concept? Yes, and she even goes to the bathroom appropriately several times per day.
That said, she can’t make it through the night dry and she has accidents out of the blue, while doing other things. We have a theory about this that I’ll get to later.
Potty training a normal, healthy child can be hard work. I think there are some important things to ask yourself. And some important ideas to accept.
Does your child understand what it means to potty or poop? Are they aware of the “feeling” that happens in their body when they pee or poop? My daughter isn’t fully aware of this. I think it has to do with her sensory awareness. She has a high pain tollerance and didn’t complain about her broken arm or bad tooth until it was swollen. So, who knows what other sensations don’t compute in her brain?
Have your kids seen you or someone else in the house use the potty chair/toilet? Seeing is believing for many kids on the autism spectrum! Demonstrating what should be done repeatedly can help them match the actions. I know it sounds funny to have to demonstrate “how to pee and poop” but kids with autism can be really litteral and without clear visual instruction, may not understand what you want them to do.
Here are some helpful suggestion when potty training and Autistic child.
- Make sure the child is ready to be potty trained. Just because all the books says they need to be trained at two does not mean your Autistic child has the ability to do so. Do they know when they are wet or have a dirty diaper? Do they have a dry diaper all night?
Does your Autistic child have the skills to undress and redress? If not this can making potty training harder unless you intend to let them run around naked for the next few months. This can also make for a lot of time spent scrubbing carpets. It is best to wait to potty train until your child can easily undress and redress them selves. My daughter wears pants that can easily be pulled up and down without buttons or snaps because she can’t use them.
- Use a reward system when potty training. If they use the potty, or attempt to use it give them some type of reward. This can be a treat or a toy. Make sure that anyone working with the child knows they are to be rewarded for their potty efforts. While this didn’t work for my daughter, it can work for some kids.
Do not punish the child for accidents. If your child has an accident remind them that is what the potty is for. Make sure everyone working with the child knows this too. Mixed messages will not help.
- Find out what your child’s schedule is. It does not take long to do this. When during the day are your child’s diapers dirty? Use these times to sit the child on the potty. You can keep a journal of the day to see a pattern in potty time. Then you will know the times to focus on potty training the most. What we found with my daughter is that she will ignore or not notice the need to go when she’s doing something she enjoys. She becomes hyper-focused on her task and wets herself.
Do not give up. If your child does not catch on right away do not give up. It takes a few weeks for a new skill to be learned. If you keep switching from diapers to the potty this will just confuse the child even more. Consistency will be a key factor when potty training. This goes for any child not just Autistic children. I don’t agree with this fully. My daughter has gone through cycles where she has more control than others. I think that at some point, wearing a pullup in certain situations is better than wetting yourself and being made fun of by other kids! Also, at school they have a much more structured schedule, so she doesn’t have to wear a pull up – but she still sometimes has accidents.
- Do not make your child feel stressed about potty training. If they think they have to use the potty they may immediately turn against it. Let your child see the potty and get familiar with it before they are made to sit there. Place the potty out in an area for them to examine it for a few days . This will let them become comfortable with the idea. You could also make this a group activity. Take your child with you to the bathroom when you need to go. Remember that demonstrating to them is often a good way for them to learn.
Is your child afraid of or hurt by loud noises? The sound of a flushing toilet might be enough to keep them out of the bathroom! Either let them know you will flush for them if they come and tell you they are done, or let them wear noise cancelling headphones when they use the toilet. Yes! Really!
Remember Autistic children can take longer to catch on to a new skill. Do not stress out about the potty training. It will happen when the child is ready. If you are stressed the child will feel that, and they will have a much harder time relaxing to use the potty. It could make them avoid potty training all together.
Things were easier for everyone when we accepted that my daughter may never be fully in control of her bladder. When we accepted that, we could plan for ways to deal with it.