Potty Training & Autism
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The significant milestones in a developing child’s life include learning to walk, talk, and use the bathroom independently.
Yet toilet training for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be incredibly challenging.
Teaching a toddler with ASD the proper technique and cleanliness associated with using the bathroom becomes much easier with the help of ABA (assisted behavioral therapy).
The result is a child whose experience learning to use the bathroom is a positive one.
It’s time to make toilet training for Autistic children a joyful experience.
Is My Autistic Child Ready for Toilet Training?
Atypical children and those with ASD might very well show similar signs of being ready for toilet training. However, children on the spectrum may not be prepared to use the bathroom independently until they’re older.
The following are some indicators that your child might be ready for toilet training.
- Communicating either through sign language, verbally, or using an assistive device to indicate they’ve got soiled diapers or wet underwear.
- Remaining dry for a minimum of 2 hours at a time.
- Being able to follow one or two-step instructions
- Seeking privacy for bowel movements
- Appearing motivated to use the toilet.
How to Start Toilet Training Your Child with ASD
One of the most critical factors in toilet training a child with Autism is to realize it takes time! Patience is crucial when embarking on this journey. Children on the spectrum can take upwards of a year to learn to use the toilet independently.
It’s also essential for parents to presume their child will succeed. As the primary caregiver, it’s your job to make your child feel they can do it. Some of the ways you can encourage success include:
- Supporting your child’s communication method, especially if they’re nonverbal (i.e. if they need an assistive device to speak with you).
- Avoiding using ‘baby talk’ instead of speaking to your child in an age-appropriate way.
- Recognizing how your child acts is a way of communicating with you.
- Permitting your child to self-stimulate through stimming, such as spinning around in circles or flapping their hands.
- Acknowledging your Autistic child in the same way an A-typical one. Never speak about them as if they’re not in the room.
Helpful Toilet Training Tips for Autistic Children
The following are some of the most effective habits for toilet training a child with ASD.
Establish a routine
Routine and consistency are crucial in the daily lives of kids on the spectrum. Not only does it provide a sense of security, but it is the best environment for them to learn.
The routine around using the bathroom can be broken down into smaller sections. This might include rewards, time interval goals, and specific actions (i.e., regularly washing hands after using the bathroom). When this routine is established, you can invite your child to participate.
Demonstrate desired behavior
Demonstrating desired behaviors (i.e., showing them how they should wash their hands) using visual instructions (i.e., a picture over the sink of a child washing their hands) and ensuring instructions are short and direct will help your child succeed.
Do not punish accidents.
Let’s be honest; accidents such as bed wetting and urinating around the perimeter of the toilet but not in the bowl will happen. It’s just part of the learning process for all children, Autistic or otherwise.
Rather than punishing or embarrassing your child or bringing it up as a point of conversation, simply remind them that using the bathroom is acceptable. From there, have them go through their toilet routine a few times.
Don’t forget to praise them when they follow through on their toilet training routine.
Reward acceptable behaviors
Before starting potty training, ensure you’ve defined the rewards your child will receive when they’re successful. Reinforcing positive behaviors will ensure your child is more likely to succeed.
Don’t forget to have a specific type of reward exclusively for toilet training. Examples might include a small treat when they sit on their potty seat for a certain amount of time and a larger reward should they urinate or have a bowel movement.
A few of the positive behaviors you can reward include the following:
- Sitting on the toilet
- Wiping themselves
- Flushing the toilet
- Washing their hands properly
Utilize underwear from the start
Using proper clothing, including underwear, will be more comfortable during this learning process and help your child understand that when they soil themselves, it’s an uncomfortable feeling.
Make the leap from diapers to big kid undies! You can even go to the store with your child to pick out some underwear of their choosing. The goal is to encourage positive behavior around toilet usage. That includes wearing the proper clothing.
Why Children with Autism Struggle with Potty Training
The brain of a child with ASD develops differently than that of an A-typical one. With sensory issues (i.e., sensitivity to light, sound, or smell), different ways of learning and understanding mean kids with Autism may take longer to learn this essential human skill.
Anxiety, frustration, and feelings of being overwhelmed with different stimuli are often how children with ASD react to learning to use the toilet. Autistic kids have sensory sensitivities to a variety of elements in potty training. From the noise the toilet makes when flushing, the cold bathroom floor, to removing clothing to use the toilet, all of these elements can evoke a strong feeling of resistance when toilet training a child with ASD.
At Heartlinks, we suggest listening and observing your child’s behavior to determine what makes them uncomfortable. Sometimes simple solutions such as wearing socks to avoid feeling the uncomfortable cold bathroom floor work. Even wearing ear defenders while using the bathroom to prevent hearing the toilet flushing can spell success when potty training for Autism.
The sense of knowing what’s going on inside our bodies, such as when we’re hungry, thirsty, tired, or need to use the bathroom, is called interoception. Often people with Autism struggle with interoception. Their body signals might be challenging to understand, extremely intense, or too subtle to perceive.
Body awareness and improved interoception can be developed through ABA therapy. Using play-based activities and several other approaches, we at Heartlinks can help increase a child’s understanding of their body’s cues and improve their ability to read them.
Gastrointestinal issues such as constipation and diarrhea are more common in Autistic children. The reasons for these sensitivities vary if your child is a picky eater, which might make them more prone to gastrointestinal problems. Or there might be a legitimate underlying medical issue. If you suspect a problem, please consult your child’s doctor.
How Heartlinks Can Help
Initially, many of the families we encounter assume toilet training is a private affair. Something that shouldn’t be discussed outside of the home.
Instead, we recommend that families work potty training into their ABA therapies sooner rather than later. Being early and integrating it will provide a team approach to this task.
You’ll find seeking our professional help will make toilet training less stressful for the entire family.
As a national leader in ABA therapies for children with Autism, we’re here to speak with you about it and how best we can help you move forward.