The first step in potty training is making sure that your child has the prerequisite skills and is ready to start the toilet training process. If you are unsure of whether your child is ready check out our blog post on this very topic.
Before you begin, consider your schedule in the next few days or weeks. Do you have any vacations planned? A relative visiting? Working long holiday hours? If so, it may not be the best time to begin and it may behoove you and your child to wait a bit longer until you have a clearer schedule. Additionally, starting during times of stress, such as moving, starting a new school (or job), or the arrival of a new baby, may not be ideal timing for potty training with a child with autism.
Potty training Checklist
You’ll want to set your home environment up for success. This includes creating a positive environment around toileting and setting a consistent routine (more on this later). The clothes your child wears should be easy to remove and only once they’ve made progress in toilet training should you begin working on removing pants with zippers and buttons. If your child can’t get their pants down in time or feel it is too difficult to remove them, they may resort to toileting in their pants as this is an easier and faster method of relieving themselves.
Having the right supplies at home will make potty training much more manageable and enjoyable. You will need:
Toilet training seat or potty chair: Depending on your preference, you’ll need a toilet training seat or a separate potty chair. A toilet training seat is a smaller seat that you attach directly to your toilet at home. It can be beneficial because your child will learn toileting on the same toilet they will use in the future and will be more likely to use other toilets in other environments because they look similar. However, using a toilet training seat can be intimidating for some children as the toilet seat is higher up, can be difficult to get on, and their feet won’t touch the floor.
A potty chair is a separate chair that can be placed on the ground and will need to be emptied after each use. Potty chairs are helpful because they are closer to the floor, making them less intimidating or challenging to use and it can be taken with you when you leave the house to ensure that your child has something to use when they’re not at home. The biggest downside to using a potty chair is that you have the empty and clean them after each use. No matter what you choose, make sure you stay consistent and positive through the process.
Timer or watch: It is also beneficial to keep a timer handy so you know when to remind your child to sit on the toilet. Your child also may enjoy having their own watch that beeps when it’s time to use the toilet. Goally can also help manage time and a child with autism’s potty training expectations about how long they should take to use the bathroom.
Reinforcers: Select small toys or treats that can be used to reinforce each small progressive step towards independent toilet training. Make sure you only use these reinforcing items during toilet training as that will keep them exciting and motivating.
Underwear: Letting your child pick out their own underwear will help with the transition out of diapers. Make sure to have plenty on hand as accidents will happen!
Goally device: Using your Goally helps create a toilet routine that your child with autism can easily follow while potty training. You can also set a timer that lets your child know how long to sit on the toilet. This will give them a sense of independence and ownership and can make the process more fun for them!
During toilet training, continue creating a positive environment by offering praise, reinforcement, and excitement for every small progressive step. If your child pulls down their pants on their own for the first time, make sure to point it out! If they only need one reminder instead of two to flush the toilet, reward them with a high five! Every step closer to independence deserves recognition. Avoid using negative words such as “yucky” or “dirty” and never punish or scold your child with autism when they have an accident. And yes, there will be accidents so be prepared with fresh underwear and an extra dose of patience.
Mallory Giacopuzzi is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst who has over 10 years of experience serving children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities and their families in a classroom, clinic, and home setting. She is the Program Administrator for an Adult Day Program for adults with autism and other disabilities and a Case Manager for in-home ABA services.
Editor's note: This information is not meant to diagnose or treat and should not take the place of personal consultation, as needed, with a qualified healthcare provider and/or BCBA.