Potty training any child can be a challenge. However, the unique characteristics of children with autism can make potty training extremely challenging. There are strategies that will help ease that challenge and make toilet training easier, though, for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Autism Characteristics That Can Make Potty Training Difficult
Sensory issues can make children with autism fearful of routine toileting situations. Not all children experience the same sensory issues; however, there are many that are common for children with autism. Sometimes, children with autism may not even experience the urge to toilet the same way others do because of sensory processing difficulties. Sounds of elimination or the toilet flushing can be bothersome.
Tactile issues may interfere with how things feel to the touch and make potty training hard. Children with autism may not feel uncomfortable with a disposable diaper that leaves a drier feeling even after being soiled. They may also have an aversion to the feeling of nothing under them on the toilet. Or things like the feel of toilet paper, a cold toilet seat, or the water washing their hands can be unsettling.
Children with autism spectrum disorders also tend to have a hard time taking the perspective of others. That means that they may not be inclined to do things in order to please others. They have to know why toileting is important to them, not why it is important to anyone else.
Children with autism spectrum disorders also tend to be routine bound. The world is a fairly chaotic experience for them and routine makes their life and what they will experience more predictable. Toileting needs can be unpredictable, though and can be a source of frustration.
Steps and Strategies in Potty Training Children With Autism
Maintain a constant schedule with meals and snacks. Make restroom visits a part of that daily schedule. Monitor the time between eating or drinking and elimination. Try to factor that timing into the schedule. Additionally, use a visual schedule that shows meals and restroom breaks on it. Even if children with autism are verbal, they tend to process better visually and visual schedule are often productive.
Make toileting a positive experience. Let children with autism spectrum disorders know why toileting will benefit them. Be sure not to take them crying to the restroom or let it seem punitive. For example, if they will not go to the restroom without getting upset, try moving a portable potty chair to a room they like. Place a favorite item by the chair. Also, reinforce small achievements, such as just sitting on the chair.
Try to eliminate sensory things that are aversive to children with autism. Disposable diapers may need to be eliminated once potty training starts. If they don’t like the toilet paper it could be replaced with wet wipes. If sounds are an issue, try flushing after they leave. Cold toilet seats may need to be warmed. It might take several observations to get a pattern of what is bothersome and how it can be altered.
Be patient. Children with autism spectrum disorders often need many more practice trials in order to master new skills. Potty training is a fairly complex skill because it involves bodily functions, many sensory issues, and many steps. Those steps will take time for most children with autism to master completely.
Toilet Training Children With Autism
Children with autism spectrum disorders have unique difficulties that can make potty training challenging. However, using visual schedules, taking their perspective on why they should participate, eliminating or reducing sensory concerns, and reinforcing their successes can help caregivers to meet that challenge. Potty training children with autism spectrum disorders can be a success.