Potty training is the work of the devil at the best of times but having a child with Special Needs can make it so much harder, on both the parents & the child. We’re currently going through the peeing everywhere stage but can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. So here’s my 11 tips for potty training a child with Autism.
1. IGNORE WHAT OTHER KIDS/PARENTS ARE DOING
Children don’t develop at the same rate anyway so once you throw Autism into the mix things really don’t follow a linear path of development. My little man is nearly four and is still non verbal with a number of developmental & sensory issues, so pushing him into potty training too soon would just have made things far worse.
I know it’s hard but don’t beat yourself up about the fact so & so was potty trained by two years old. It will drive you mad believe me, you just need to think about your own child and wait until they are ready.
2. WAIT UNTIL THEY’RE READY
I knew we needed to start potty training once Archie started peeing in things. I mean literally peeing in things. He’s pee’d in his breakfast bowl, in his toy truck, in his toy box and on the floor far too many times to count. We were advised from our speech therapist to wait until he could communicate with us but I just couldn’t continue with the constant peeing whenever he got the chance.
I started looking for signs that Archie needed the toilet. I realised that he would start to touch the waistband of his trousers then try to pull them down, he didn’t always manage to pull them down to begin with sometimes just giving it a tug but I knew if he started messing with his trousers he wanted to go.
I also started trying to keep track of the times that he used the potty to try and anticipate when he might need to go. He seemed to always need a wee first thing in the morning so we’d ask him if he wants a wee wee as soon as we woke up. At first I don’t think he really understood but eventually he started associating the words wee wee with going to the potty or toilet. If I ask him if he needs a wee wee then he’ll usually say yes or no. This has been a step that has taken months so don’t worry if your child doesn’t get it straight away. Just keep trying and keep being consistent. We know how our Autism kiddos love routine & repetition.
3. HAVE PATIENCE
Again this goes back to ignoring what is going on with other people are doing. Don’t feel bad or put pressure on yourself or your child just because someone else did it in a matter of weeks. We’ve been trying for months and Archie is still in pull ups. Were at the stage where he is going to the potty for wee’s most of the time but number two’s are a whole different ball game which is going to take waaay longer.
4. EXPLAIN THE PROCESS
Archie is beginning to understand us more & more but we still need to be careful we don’t overwhelm him with too much information. I try to talk him through the steps every time he goes to the potty and try to be consistent with it.
Archie starts at a Special Needs school after the summer and they will be helping us with the process too. They’ve advised that to make the process even easier to try using a visual, or picture, schedule with your child. I’ve have a little symbol that I show him when I ask him if he needs the potty plus we’ll be starting to use a visual schedule too as actually seeing the process in step by step pictures can often help a child that may not always understand verbal cues.
5. BE PREPARED!
Make sure you have everything you need to hit the ground running! We hit IKEA to get most of what we needed. A potty or toilet seat, a little booster step, pull up pants, lot’s of spare undies and a major one for me was lot’s of kitchen roll & antibacterial spray for cleaning up little messes.
6. MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS ON BOARD
There would be no point in me starting potty training at home if nursery or the grandparents weren’t also on board. Before I started potty training I had a chat with Archie’s SENCO at nursery to tell her why I wanted to start and how we would both work with Archie. They have the same symbol at nursery but don’t yet use the visual schedule. He will be leaving there for the summer in the next few weeks so I’ll be starting the visual schedule through the summer when I try to move Archie from using the potty to going to the toilet.
7. DEVELOP A CUE
As mentioned above I looked for a naturally occurring cue that I could start to use to anticipate when Archie might need to go. This was then built on by using the toilet picture card & using the words wee wee. Archie will wee on the potty or toilet but won’t do a number two unless it’s in his nappy.
We’re not sure if it’s a sensory thing or simply because he still has very soft, messy poo’s (sorry) because of his restricted diet. He basically still has soft baby poo’s so many not feel comfortable going to the toilet or potty. Plus he quite likes the sensation of having a dirty nappy. This is very common. When I had a conversation with the staff at Archie’s new special needs school they said this is so, so common amongst children with Autism. They get sensory input from having a dirty nappy.
I’ve no idea how long he’ll continue to poo in a nappy but I won’t be pushing him to use the toilet for number two’s until he’s much more comfortable to.
8. CONSISTENCY IS KEY
As the parent of a child with Autism, you probably already know just how crucial having a consistent routine is. Our little ones thrive on that, they flourish with it. Make sure you continue to give them that when starting the potty training process. Yes, there will be some upset initially, but creating and sticking to a routine from the moment you start will help make the adjustment period as smooth as possible.
9. CELEBRATE THE SMALL SUCCESSES
Potty training is definitely a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, effort, and dedication to make it to the finish line. At times, the entire process can seem overwhelming and exhausting. There will be setbacks and there will be accidents, but take the time to celebrate even the smallest of successes. This is what will keep your head in the game and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Potty training is hard work for both so celebrating the successes will make it bearable.
10. FIND CREATIVE WAYS TO REWARD YOUR CHILD
Potty training is not just a stressful situation for the parents, it is for the kids as well. Starting potty training is a huge change, even if the child is ready for it they might be resistant to it.
For Archie the usual reward chart or promise of treats just wouldn’t have worked. He wouldn’t have understood why he was getting the treats and definitely wouldn’t have paid ny attention to a reward chart. For us it was all about the praise & hi 5’s. He loves a high 5 so every time he went to the toilet we’d make a big fuss clapping & high 5-ing, he loved it. Now when he goes he’ll be the one high 5-ing like a pro!
We’re getting there & I’m sure you will too. If you’ve already got it nailed what advice would you give to other Autism parents?
You can read more on Archie’s Autism Journey here