How to Potty Train an Autistic Child

There are skills to be gained in learning how to potty train an autistic child, though it may be a little bit difficult and seriously challenging to overcome when the situation rises to one face-to-face. Potty training is essentially understood to be an active process of putting children through a socially acceptable way of defecating, urinating, etc.

No matter how rigorous it may have seemed to be, boys and girls alike are typically most ready to potty train between 18 and 30 months old of age, but definitely boys can take a bit longer to get the way to do the potty training. You can help your little boy learn to use the potty by making sure he understands proper terminology, setting up a schedule, and taking gentle and encouraging steps to help him potty train without pressure.

This training doesn’t have to be an energy-sapping one for anyone. This is because there are more flexible but strategic approaches to  better teach your son to succeed at mastering the practice at the right age.

Teaching a child how to use the potty requires a reasonable degree of cooperation and motivation from them, plus time and patience from you. The key to potty training success is starting when the child in question is interested, willing, and physically able.

When parents begin potty training too soon, the process is likely to take longer. In other words, you’ll arrive at your destination at the same time, no matter when you start. Hence, it is advised that the trainer, teacher, or parents exercise patience in all.

Potty Training an Autistic Child:

There is however a potty training process that may be harder than just the normal training of a child who’s probably not mentally or physically challenged as the autistic one. Without mincing words, autism is a disorder or a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication.

Imagine confronted with a situation like communicating with a child whose communication role is naturally poor or defective? Such would definitely be problematic and trying. Not to worry! Below are tips on how to potty train an autistic child:

  • Communicate Less

Use clear and simple pictures or visual prompts such as the visual support below from the Autism Speaks tool kit. Use the visual prompt with simple and direct language to help your child understand what is expected. For example, say “Time for potty” instead of asking “Do you need to use the potty now?”

We’ve found it most effective when parents simultaneously present the verbal direction with the visual support while immediately guiding the child to the toilet with little or no additional discussion.

  • Use More Under-wears

This can help the autistic child to understand that the sanctity of being loose during times for peeing or pooing. Move your child into underwear as soon as possible. We realize that this seems an intimidating step for many parents. But we’ve found it’s really important. Let’s face it, modern diapers and pull-ups can be too good at whisking away the pee.

As a result, your child may not even realize that he has urinated. Putting your child in underwear helps him associate accidents with the discomfort of wetness on his skin.

  • Avoid Anger

When your child does have an accident, minimize discussing, cajoling, pleading, teasing or other fussing that can have the unintended result of reinforcing the accident behavior. Instead, provide a brief reminder that you expect your child to use the toilet next time he needs to go.

Then complete the cleanup with as little fanfare and discussion as possible. Save your attention for when your child is using – or attempting to use – the toilet.

  • Motivate the Child

Identify some activities, toys or small treats that will motivate your child. Reserve these for rewarding your child’s toileting successes, and only for rewarding toileting success. Chances are your child will work harder at achieving success if he can’t get these items any other way.

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Importantly, deliver the rewards as soon as possible after your child uses the toilet to pee or poop. Don’t wait! We’ve found that quick delivery of the reward tends to speed skill acquisition. And remember those visual supports.

In the early stages of training, reward each small success – even a small dribble of urine. These are important behaviors that you can build upon during subsequent bathroom trips.

  • Use rewards to communicate

Sometimes, rewards can help you communicate your expectations to your child. This is especially important for children who have difficulty understanding “if, then” rules.

On a day you are both at home, increase the fluids he drinks. This will give you more chances to take him to the bathroom for a successful pee. Reward each tinkle!

Look for patterns in when your child has accidents. It can help to write down the time and place of each accident for several days. You may start to see a pattern emerge. For example, you may find that he often urinates around 30 minutes after drinking a glass of water, milk or other beverage. Use this information to schedule his bathroom trips around times he seems most likely to pee.

Remember to make those rewards immediate and consistent. This increases the chances that your child makes the connection between peeing and receiving his reward.

  • Enforce Communication

It’s especially important to help children with limited verbal abilities to signal their need to use the toilet. Once your child is consistently using the toilet when you bring him to the bathroom, it’s time to teach him a simple way to tell you he needs “to go.”

Consider encouraging him to use a visual support such as a picture of a toilet. Consider clipping it to his belt loop or shirt button hole so he can easily point to it. Or, if your child uses an assisted communication device, you can incorporate a picture of a toilet that he can press to give you an audible cue.

Ideally, you want him to use these cues when he feels his bladder is full. It can help to slowly stretch out how often you take him to the bathroom unprompted. In other words, you need to give him the chance to recognize what a full bladder feels like – and then experience the relief of peeing in the toilet. As we all know, that relieved feeling can be its own “natural” reward for using the toilet.

As your child becomes increasingly attuned to when his bladder and bowel is full, he may begin to show more obvious signs of a full bladder. You may start to see an increase in rocking, holding oneself, more vocalizations or other signs that he’s ready for a trip to the bathroom.

Sometimes a child may simply look intently at you – or toward the bathroom – when he or she needs to go. It’s particularly helpful for parents, teachers and other caregivers to become sensitive to these “tells” and immediately encourage the child to use the chosen communication method. This can be with whatever method works best – e.g., handing you the toilet picture or pressing the toilet button on a speech device.

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