Potty Training Your Kid With Autism

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia.

Norrin was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 years 5 months old – right around the age most kids start potty training. But at the time Norrin was diagnosed, he couldn’t even point his finger.

Or clap his hands.

Or wave hello/goodbye.

Or speak.

While potty training should have been at the bottom of the list of things I wanted Norrin to learn, there was this desire to be like a typical parent – for him to be a typical kid. And I wanted to start potty training Norrin at the age the other parents did. So a few months after the therapists started working with Norrin – we started.

And then we stopped. Because potty training a kid who couldn’t speak or have the motor coordination to clap, point, wave can be…difficult (among other things).

I realized that with everything else, I needed to take potty training step by step. So if you’re thinking of potty training your kid with autism – here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Ignore what the other kids/parents are doing. Parents of typical kids love to talk about potty training – how they did it and how long it took them. I remember talking to one mom who expressed her frustration with the process because it took a whole two weeks. And I felt like a failure because we had been working on potty training for months (with little success). I couldn’t think about other kids. I had to concentrate on mine.

2. Start when your child is ready. Aside from being emotionally ready, they need to be physically ready. One of the things our Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist stressed was Norrin learning how to to pull down his pants and underwear. Think about all the physical movement required to use the bathroom especially for boys. Potty training requires a certain amount of independence and if a child cannot remove his undergarments to go to the bathroom then it may be best to hold off until they can.

3. Everyone needs to be on board. When we started potty training Norrin, we started at home. We communicated with his teachers about potty training and asked for tips. We used to send Norrin to school wearing underwear with a Pull-Up underneath. Once he got to school – the Pull-Up was removed and his teachers took him to the bathroom throughout the day. Pull-Ups that have side openings worked best for potty training as it allowed teachers to remove it without removing all the clothing. It was a collaborative effort.

4. You need to be consistent. Once you determine your child is ready. Once you get everyone on board – teachers, sitters, grandparents – whoever. You need to be consistent. So even when you’re out  and about on the weekends, even if your child has a Pull-Up on (just in case), take them to the bathroom – get them accustomed to public restrooms.

5. Be patient. It took us more than two years to potty train Norrin. Don’t think potty training will take a week, two weeks, or a month. Do not put your child (or yourself) on a deadline. Start when you start and finish when you finish.

6. Have a sense of humor. Potty training is messy business (so be sure to stock up on paper towels and cleaning wipes). Accept it. Laugh it off whenever possible. Though I know, sometimes it can be hard. If you want to laugh at one of our potty training adventures, check out this post - Norrin and the Royal Flushing Privies

Norrin is 7-years-old. He’s fully potty trained during the day. Yes he still needs help (with buttons and zippers and cleaning), and he still needs prompting (washing hands). Night time potty training is a whole other ball game. We’re not even trying. And I’m not going stress about it, because I’m sure Norrin will get it. In his own time.

If you’d like a resource book on potty training special needs kids, Toilet Training for Individuals with Autism or Other Developmental Issues was really helpful.

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  1. [...] Potty training your child with autism (Parents.com ) [...]

  2. by Ellen Seidman

    On April 24, 2013 at 3:35 pm

    Great advice, Lisa. One thing that helped us finally potty-train Max was that we were able to dedicate a real stretch of time to training him—in our case, the week we were out of our home and in a hotel because of Hurricane Sandy! Some parents dedicate a weekend to training. NOT the most fun weekend you’ll ever have, but the results can be worth it. Max isn’t yet night-trained, but when it happens, it will.

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