Toilet training any child can be difficult and frustrating. There are a few things that might make toilet training a child with special needs a bit more challenging. If a child has had various delays: gross and fine motor, speech and communication, and others, this could lead to a delay in toilet training, too, making it tougher to get out of diapers. Some children with autism spectrum disorder may have a difficult time communicating, making it harder for them to alert caregivers when they need to use the bathroom. Many children also struggle with sensory input and identifying sensory signals, making them unable to recognize when it’s time to use the toilet. Of course, there are also many gut-related issues that accompany autism for many, many people with autism and that often results in chronic constipation and/or loose bowels. These things absolutely complicate their toileting process.
Of course, there are some people who are not ever able to use the toilet and instead remain wearing diapers, and that’s okay. If you think you and more importantly, your child are ready to attempt toilet training, here are some tips that may make the process easier on you all.
1. Communicate and set clear expectations.
Before diving right in, expose your child to books and even videos about using the toilet. There are great books and DVDs out there and you can search any online book retailer easily. You can often find children’s books and DVDs at your local library, too. There are plenty books for parents, too! My personal favorite is The Potty Journey by Judith Coucouvanis.
2. Involve your child
Take your child to pick out underwear, flushable wipes, and whatever rewards you choose to use. Some families use sticker charts, some use edible treats, and others reward with activities. If your child can’t travel with you to stores, be sure to show him or her all the exciting new things you’ve purchased.
3. Use visuals.
While not all children with special needs are able to use speech to communicate, and some may have difficulty processing language, most children respond well to visual supports. Place a step by step guide in the bathroom using pictures, and pair it with very simple language. Some families might use pictures from a PECS program or even print out photos of their own children following the toileting steps.
4. Reward! Reward! Reward!
Because many children respond so well to praise and celebration, go ahead and have a potty party each and every time your child is successful using the toilet. If you’re using stickers, it may help to create a sticker book and be sure everyone in the home and at school is armed with stickers. Each time your child is successful, everyone on your team (parents, caregivers, teachers, etc) will add a sticker to your child’s book. Some children earn bigger rewards like a new toy or a trip to the ice cream shop or iPad time after a certain number of stickers are earned. Over time, a child might receive a sticker for each dry day.
5. Don’t sweat the wet stuff.
In order to be sure we’re not reinforcing undesired behaviors or accidents, try not to draw too much attention to it. We want our children to be successful and feel good about themselves, never guilty or ashamed. Clean up accidents quickly and without much commentary, always encouraging your child to continue trying.
6. Stay Consistent.
Remember to be sure you have everyone on your child’s caregiving team on the same page, understanding your protocol and participating as much as their role allows. It’s important to stick to your plan without giving up or giving in too soon. It is likely that your child will struggle at first, but the longer you stick to the plan, and the schedule you set for making trips to the toilet, the more your child will recognize this as a new routine. Stay consistent, stay patient, and always continue encouraging your child, never shaming him or her for accidents. This is a marathon, not a sprint!
Bonus Tip: Keep track of it all in Birdhouse!
Birdhouse allows you to keep track of everything for your child with special needs: diet, medication, mood, sleep, and even toileting. So, you can get an idea of when and how often your child is peeing or pooping. Maybe there’s a pattern there that could help toilet training be a bit easier! Visit BirdhouseHQ.com for more information!