In our blog, we have previously covered how to know when your child is ready to potty train, as well as focused on effective strategies to implement potty training. However, implementing potty training even if you follow all of the right steps doesn’t come without its challenges. Today we will summarize the general training process and cover a couple of common challenges.
There are many methods to approach toilet training but most rely on the same basic principles: timing, reinforcement, and consistency. According to the Mayo Clinic, having your child sit on the toilet without their diaper every two hours, as well as immediately when they wake up in the morning and after their nap, is the best course of action. This is where having a timer or watch or a Goally will greatly benefit you and your child as it helps ensure that you are consistently reminding your child that it’s time to use the toilet.
While they sit, read them a book, sing with them, or allow them to play with a toy. Give your child with autism-specific praises for sitting on the toilet (no matter how short of a time period), pulling down their pants, waiting patiently on the toilet, or any small achievement. Remember, you want to create a fun and positive toilet training experience. Boys should first be taught to urinate while sitting down and can be taught to stand after bowel training. After they have sat, have them complete the rest of the toilet training routine including practicing wiping, flushing, and washing their hands. They may need a lot of assistance with these steps, but it is still allowing them to experience and practice steps they will eventually complete on their own.
Keep an eye on your child for any signs of needing to use the restroom. This could be squirming, squeezing their legs together, or leaving the room to find a secluded area to use their diaper. At these first signs, calmly but quickly address your child and help them identify these as signs to use the bathroom (“I see you’re wiggling in your chair, I think you need to use the bathroom”). Walk them to use the restroom and praise them for using the toilet and showing you that they had to go. After a few weeks of consistent toilet use, you can begin transitioning them out of diapers and into training pants or underwear. Once your child with autism has learned all the steps to potty training, begin using backward chaining to increase their independence.
Potty Training Challenges and Additional Resources
Of course, there will always be challenges or difficulties during the toilet training process. Health issues should always be ruled out when your child is having a difficult time learning to use the toilet. Some children with autism may need each step of potty training broken down into smaller steps. Other children may need help getting used to just sitting on the toilet. In these cases, speak with your pediatrician, therapist, BCBA, or other professional to help create a unique, specific plan for your child.
The Azrin and Foxx Toilet Training Method talked about in our previous blog post, is a detailed plan to help most children learn to potty train quickly. It is practiced widely among BCBA professionals with positive outcomes. It utilizes a doll to model appropriate toileting, positive practices when your child does have an accident, and potty trials every 15 minutes. You can find their methods online or purchase their book for a more detailed version. Goally can also be an important aid with intensive potty training for your child with autism.
Potty training your child with autism or other disabilities does not have to be frustrating for you or your child. Although your child may experience more difficulties than some other kids, with patience, consistency, a few extra tools, and setting the environment up for success, your child can successfully learn to use the toilet on their own!
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.