How to Potty Train a Developmentally Delayed Child

by Barbie Carpenter

Potty training is a developmental milestone that both parents and children celebrate. Although potty training a developmentally delayed child will likely take longer, this achievement will occur, and when it does, it is meaningful for all family members. Potty training a developmentally delayed child takes a unique plan that addresses the child's fears, physical and mental challenges, and innate responses to success and failure. Understanding these issues encourages success on the potty.

Evaluate your child's signs of potty-training readiness. Your developmentally delayed child will likely show signs of readiness later than other children. Once your child is staying dry for at least two hours and recognizing the difference between being wet and being dry, he might be ready to potty train. Other signs of readiness include being able to dress and undress himself, communicate the need to go the bathroom and follow directions.

Talk to your child about the potty-training process. Communication is a crucial part of potty training for a developmentally delayed child. Talk her through using the potty. Show her how the toilet flushes and how to sit on it -- you can even demonstrate the process yourself. This visual, verbal demonstration allows your developmentally delayed child, who might be reticent to use the potty, to become more comfortable with the process.

Create simple steps that your child can follow. Developmentally delayed children thrive on focused, action-oriented tasks. Break the process down into easy-to-understand steps, starting with taking off clothes, followed by sitting on the toilet, using the bathroom, getting dressed, flushing and washing hands. Allow your child to succeed at each step individually before putting them together.

Devise a schedule for potty training. Regular elimination schedules reduce accidents in developmentally delayed children. Track when your child typically soils a diaper, and place him on the potty before it typically occurs. This scheduled training promotes success, which can improve your child's outlook on potty training. Make a schedule that you hang in a prominent place in your home; this chart will allow your child to understand the routine of visiting the potty.

Praise your child. Positive behavioral interventions are highly successful in developmentally delayed children. Even though not every trip to the potty will be a success, focusing on the individual successes encourages your child and pushes her to excel even more. Praise can even come in the form of small rewards, such as stickers or TV time, to celebrate successes. Praise should occur after every attempt on the potty, no matter the outcome.


  • Your pediatrician can provide helpful insight into the specific challenges of potty-training a developmentally delayed child. Schedule an appointment with a pediatrician to discuss how to best tackle potty training with your child's special needs in mind.
  • Understand that, under any circumstances, potty training takes time and patience. A developmentally delayed child might take longer than other children to potty train.

About the Author

Barbie Carpenter worked as a technical writer and editor in the defense industry for six years. She also served as a newspaper feature page editor and nationally syndicated columnist for the Hearst Corp. Carpenter holds a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Florida and a graduate certificate in professional writing from the University of Central Florida.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images