Ditching diapers to conquer toilet training is a tough task for any family. But for parents of children on the autism spectrum, potty training can be even more difficult.
“Toilet training with children with ASD can be complicated by lack of social motivation, lack of expressive communication skills, difficulty understanding directions, and sensory issues,” says Kristin Hustyi, a board-certified behavior analyst and network director at Autism Home Support Services.
To help families succeed in this stressful task, Hustyi offers five tips for toilet training a child with autism.
“Remember that most typically developing children do not show interest in potty training until 2 to 3 years old, so it’s important to wait until your child is developmentally ready to start potty training to avoid you or your child becoming frustrated with the process,” Hustyi says. “Similarly, you should not start potty training if your child is experiencing physical problems like chronic constipation.”
1. Look for signs of readiness
If you’re wondering if your child is ready to take this big step, ask yourself these questions: Can he or she stay dry for one and a half to two hours? Can he or she comply with simple one-step instructions such as “sit down” or “go to the bathroom”? Can they pull their pants up and down without your help?
If you answered yes, your child could be ready to take this step.
2. Choose effective rewards
Rewards are powerful tools during the potty training process.
“Choose highly preferred items that are not readily available at other times during the day,” Hustyi recommends. “For example, if your child loves fruit snacks, keep fruit snacks out of their lunch box and only make them available for successful eliminations in the potty.”
3. Set the stage
Creating a comfortable atmosphere is key here. Purchase a potty insert and a footstool to make the environment comfortable for your child, she suggests.
“Your child is less likely to comply with your request to stay seated on the potty if they do not feel secure and stable while sitting.”
Have rewards on hand. They should be placed in your child’s view but not be accessible to your child.
Purchase cloth underwear prior to getting started.
“Cloth underwear allows both you and your child to know immediately when an accident occurs,” she says. “Being wet is uncomfortable! Experiencing accidents in cloth underwear can help motivate the child to use the potty to avoid discomfort.”
4. Dedicate a weekend to “potty-training boot camp”
Two to three days should be spent at home to help jump-start your child’s potty training success. Avoid trips outside of the home, she suggests, and be sure to schedule additional child care for your other children – as you’ll be mainly focused on your potty trainee.
Keep your child in cloth underwear during the hours he or she is awake, and slowly increase his or her fluid intake during this time. From there, set a schedule.
“Start with taking your child to the bathroom every 25 to 30 minutes, but don’t forget to look for their natural cues to use the bathroom and take them early if needed,” Hustyi says.
Once your child is successfully using the toilet and staying dry, increase the time between potty breaks by five-minute increments.
Your child should stay seated for three to five minutes – or until he or she uses the toilet. Recording the time of accidents and successes allows you to track your child’s progress and adjust your schedule.
“Deliver rewards immediately upon success – within three seconds – and pair rewards with praise, music, bubbles – whatever your child likes,” she says.
5. Seek support from a BCBA
Remember that you’re not alone in this journey – and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to toilet training.
“There are many additional modifications and strategies that can be used if your child is not initially successful with toilet training,” Hustyi says. “If your child is having trouble acquiring self-help skills, reach out to an ABA provider who can help support your child in the home setting.”
Sponsored content brought to you by Autism Home Support Services. For more information on Autism Home Support Services, visit autismhomesupport.com.