Autism and Potty Coaching: Ideas for Toileting Success
Guest contribution by Emily Ansell Elfer, BA Hons, Dip.
Ask any parent about potty training for their child and you will likely hear it was a struggle! Many “small accidents” are experienced and many bed linen and outfit sets go through the washing machine before the “toilet success” is achieved. However, this transition period can be even more difficult for children with the autism spectrum than for their neurotypical peers.
Sign autistic children are ready for potty training
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / IRINA SCHMIDT
There is no set age by which a child with autism spectrum is ready to start pot training, as each child has their own needs and develops at their own pace. So, rather than focusing on the child’s age, it is generally best to write down their skills and abilities as a sign that they might be ready for the challenge.
If your child can pull their underwear up and down without assistance, this is a good sign that they have the motor skills needed to begin potty training. Also make sure that your child can sit up straight without support and that they are comfortable sitting on the potty.
If your child has shown interest in the toilet / bathrooms (perhaps sitting on the toilet or trying to copy how the parents use the bathroom), this is a good indicator that the child is ready to start potty training !
It is also interesting to see that some children do not like to be in their own mess – when the child tries to take off their diaper / nappy after filling, you know that the desire to go to the potty is already there to some extent .
How to Potty Train Children on the Autism Spectrum
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / IRINA SCHMIDT
As surprising as that sounds, many parents report success in skipping the potty and going straight to the bathroom! Many children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) do not like changes, so getting used to the toilet rather than making two transitions (potty, then toilet) can make the experience less stressful for the child.
Other suggestions are:
- Use specific and precise language, such as “We’re peeing in the potty”, so your child understands exactly what the potty is for and when to use it. Most autistic children are literally thinkers
- Be positive and give praise when your child uses the potty properly: This should help them associate the potty with positivity and ease some of their anxiety
- Don’t force your child to sit on the potty for too long. Five minutes at a time is enough. Otherwise, the potty may feel like a punishment or time out
- Make a schedule. Most of the kids on the spectrum prefer routine and predictability. Once you have a good understanding of when your child has a bowel movement, encourage them to sit on the potty at those times of the day (for example, first thing in the morning or just after meals).
When to take a break from potty training
PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK / YAOINLOVE
Patience is so important in trying to potty a child on the autism spectrum. It often takes longer than neurotypical children. If your child is constantly having accidents, or becomes hesitant or even frightened at the idea of using the potty, it is best to take a break.
Using the potty or the toilet should be a positive experience and forcing a child to do something they are not ready to do could lead to a longer-term problem like defecation. Take a break, recharge your batteries, and try again when the time is right.
Remember, practice makes perfect! With a lot of patience and encouragement from their carers, most of the children in the spectrum will reach the milestone in potty training.
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