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This article is mommy approved by Miriam Slozberg, mother of two.
Parenting children on the autism spectrum is most definitely difficult regardless of the severity, or whether the child is verbal or not. The challenges may be different depending on how profoundly the child is affected. However, one of the things that parents of children with autism dread are potty training, a lot worse than helping your autistic child eat.
In fact, many parents of children that are on the severe end of the autism spectrum and that are non-verbal may give up on the idea of potty training entirely. However, that is never a good idea because even if the child is non-verbal and is on the severe end of the spectrum, potty training is possible.
However, there are steps to take and methods to utilize when you take this major step. Either way, parents must be prepared regardless of where the child is on the autism spectrum because children with the condition do not do well with transitioning. It needs to be done slowly and in a methodical manner. Let’s now take a look at the 10 methods to utilize in order to potty train a child with autism.
1. The Signs Of Readiness Is When To Start Potty Training The Child With Autism
What does it mean when the child with autism is ready? It means the same thing when you are wanting to potty train a typical toddler. The difference is that unfortunately, with children on the autism spectrum, they will be a lot older when they are ready to be trained. Depending on the severity of the condition, some autistic kids will be ready to be trained by the time they are 4 years old, and others won’t be ready until they are 10 years old.
However, the signs of readiness to look out for in the autistic child are:
- The child is dry overnight and is dry up to 2 hours.
- The cognitive development of the child is equivalent to a typical toddler.
- Bowel movements are formed.
- There are no additional medical conditions that could get into the way of the training.
- The parents are prepared to begin as it will be a difficult journey.
- There are no major additional stressors at homes such as illness, divorce, death of a loved one, moving, or the birth of a baby.
If those signs that the child with autism is ready to be potty trained are there, then the process can begin. Let’s now go further into the process.
2. Be Sure To Start At The Right Time For You
Parents with children that have autism know that potty training will be a long process. This means they have to be emotionally ready as well, and not agree to do it for the sake of pressure that they are getting from their own parents or other members of their extended families.
This process also must be done when nothing else stressful is happening such as what was mentioned in the previous point. The toilet training process must be done when the parents are able to fully commit to doing it. With that said if the child with autism is 7 years old and is showing signs of readiness, but the child’s grandmother is ill and needs a lot of care – and is taking up the parents’ time as well, that is not the time to start. There must be no additional major stressors in the way.
3. Create Your Own Village Of Support
Potty training the child with autism will require a lot of time and effort. The parents will need to gather their support teams such as supportive parents, siblings, other trusted members of extended family, and friends. It is also advisable to hire a therapist to help out during the times that you are dedicating for potty training if you don’t have a large support system.
4. Keep The Routine The Same For Potty Training
Both verbal and non-verbal children with autism will be more likely to be successful with being potty trained if the training is done specifically at the same time each day. Transitioning these kids out of diapers is a huge deal especially for these kids that struggle with change. They will be more receptive to it if it is done at the same time each day or evening.
5. Use The Language To Train That Is Familiar To The Child And Use Visual Supports
Kids with autism are visual and rote learners. This means they learn from what they see (visual) and they learn through memorization as a result of repetition (rote). They will not master commands given orally that are not supported through visuals at all.
This means it is advisable to create a social story about the child using the toilet and doing #1 or #2, and getting a reward. Create the story by using their pictures and with them sitting on the toilet. There are apps as well such as the Touch Autism app where social stories for potty training can be created.
You can also consult a therapist who can give advice when it comes to creating the best type of social stories for potty training. The type of story used also will depend on the child’s cognitive level as well.
6. Have A Reward System The Same Way As You Would When You Train A Typical Toddler
Children and adults both will provide good work based on an incentive. Think about it. If your boss announced that if you were to complete a project by a certain timeframe that you would end up with a $200 extra bonus. You would be motivated to get that work done and make it a priority because it is an excellent incentive.
The same goes for your autistic child. As long as they have the cognitive development of a toddler that is at least 18 months old, they will grasp the fact that if they do something that they are asked to do, they will be rewarded. You most definitely will want to praise the child after doing #1 or #2 in the toilet. But you also in addition to that want to have a tangible reward such as a new toy. Children with autism and even adults that are moderate to severely affected by autism lack the ability of abstract thinking.
They need to be able to see the reward. And if they can tie together the cause and effect of going to the bathroom in the potty meaning they will get a toy, then that will make a huge difference in regards to it being done successfully.
7. Be Sure The Environment In The Bathroom Is Calming For The Autistic Child
When you are ready to start potty training your autistic child, you want to make sure that the bathroom environment is going to provide a safe and calming setting. This means bringing a few calming toys into the bathroom when the child is being trained because that will help them with the transition.
Additionally, you want to make sure that if the child’s feet don’t touch the floor while he or she is sitting on the toilet, place a footstool underneath the feet. That will help the child maintain balance and when the child’s feet are balanced, that will keep them calm. If their feet are not touching the floor, that can upset them as that can be a major sensory issue if their feet are left dangling in the air.
8. Teach The Push Motion Through Either Blowing Bubbles Or Using A Blow Toy
Children on the autism spectrum have poor interoceptive awareness, which means they are not able to distinguish between sensations in their bodies. Therefore, this is why many children on the spectrum are not sure if they have to do #1 or #2 if they are feeling the pressure that they have to go to the bathroom.
This means when children on the autism spectrum are told to push, their muscles will only tense up and they will not be able to realize that because of having poor interoceptive awareness. This is why using a blow toy or blowing bubbles can help. If the child is able to blow into the toy or bubbles, the muscles will relax as a result. Therefore, they will be able to go to the bathroom easily.
9. Rely On Potty Training Resources For Children With Autism
Even though the toilet training process for autistic children is similar to how it is when you are training a typical toddler for toileting, there are also some differences. Because of the complexity and severity of autism in many children, outside help is needed from therapists as parents and even their supports will need further assistance. There is also a recommended book to get that is helpful to parents of children with autism whether they are verbal or non-verbal called The Potty Journey.
This book will provide detailed steps on how to potty train the autistic child.
10. Patience, Patience, Patience
When you have a child with autism, you need a lot of patience. This is why when you are ready to commit to toilet training your autistic child, you must be sure that you will have a lot of patience as it will be a journey. It can be easier than expected or harder than expected. However, you need to have plenty of patience because regardless of how successful it is – there are guaranteed to be struggles and fights, and again, rely on the supports and resources around you.
If your autistic child has extremely poor interoceptive awareness, then the journey will take that much longer and again, you must rely on the help you can get.
Additionally, you may need to try different approaches as one approach that works for one child with autism may not work for another.
Potty training the autistic child is going to be a challenge whether they are verbal or non-verbal. That is because it is a known fact that they do not do well with transitioning. And them knowing that they will have to stop wearing diapers so they can potty in the place where it belongs -the toilet will be enough to disrupt them.
However, with consistency, by using the tools around, and with the right supports, and with patience, eventually it will be successful and the child will begin to know where to go to the bathroom.
Miriam Slozberg is a Canadian author, blogger, and mom to 2 kids. One had combined autism and ADHD. After years of trialing different forms of therapy, she learned how to best support her son. She writes on publications such as BabyGaga.com. She also is a mental health advocate as she lives with ADHD and has experienced depression.