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Toilet Training for Individuals With Autism or Other Developmental Issues

by Michelle Blessing, studioD

Potty training can be a difficult feat for any parent. Potty training a child with autism or other developmental delays is even more challenging. Added to the task are other difficulties you and your child first must overcome before he masters the potty. Don't get discouraged, though. Your child can be potty trained in spite of the obstacles you may encounter.


Several obstacles might make potty training your child with autism or other delays difficult. First, physical limitations may exist. Have your pediatrician examine your child if you suspect a medical reason for toileting difficulties. Second, children on the autism spectrum often have difficulties communicating their needs to others, so your child may be unable to tell you he needs to use the potty. Third, children on the spectrum struggle with change or strange situations, so the potty may be a source of fear or stress. Fourth, a child with developmental delays may struggle to recognize body cues that he needs to use the bathroom. He may not care or recognize that he has had an accident.

Where to Start

Aim for having your child sit on the potty five or six times a day. Increase the duration of each session over time. Start small -- for example, 5 to 10 seconds -- and move up to 30-second increments on the potty. If necessary, use a timer to let your child know when she can get up. Tell her it is time to use the potty; waiting for her to let you know will likely result in an accident. Use a picture or other schedule to let your child know it is time to use the potty, and schedule potty time in regular, predictable intervals such as every 15 or 30 minutes. Identify appropriate rewards that will motivate your child if she uses the potty correctly, such as food treats. Be sure you have an abundance of underwear, and be prepared for a challenging few days.

Training Basics

Start with a written plan if your child can understand it, or use a visual plan if he uses a picture schedule or the Picture Exchange Communication System. Use the plan every day to create consistency for your child. Share this plan with anyone who interacts with your child, such as teachers or babysitters. Give your child lots of liquids to speed the need to use the toilet. Watch for signs he needs to go (bouncing, grabbing his privates or saying "I have to pee") in order to take him to the potty. It helps to keep a potty chair in all bathrooms in the beginning. However, if you can't, be consistent about where you take your child. Consistency is key in helping your child master the potty-training routine.

If It Doesn't Work

Be patient. Children with autism or developmental delays will likely take longer to train than normally developing children. Change your potty schedule if your child is having frequent accidents, and change the reward if your child is not motivated by the one you have chosen. Call your pediatrician for an evaluation if your child seems to struggle with urinating or bowel movements to rule out any medical problems. You can also call if your child has made no progress with training after several months. The doctor may have advice or refer you to specialists who can assist in the potty-training process.

About the Author

Michelle Blessing has experience in child development, parenting, social relationships and mental health, enhanced by her work as a clinical therapist and parent educator. Blessing's work has appeared in various online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and is pursuing her master's degree in psychology with a specialization in applied behavior analysis.

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