The Toilet Training Challenge

October 01, 2017
  • As a parent, toilet training is a challenge we must all face and conquer! While it can be an intimidating process, we hope to provide you with tips and suggestions to aide in achieving this major milestone. Typically, toilet training begins between the age of 22 and 30 months. However, all children are different, especially those on the autism spectrum. Your decision to potty train your child should not be based on age alone. To be successful, children should be able to control their bowel and bladder muscles. If your child is able to stay dry for several hours or if they typically go on a schedule, this is a great indicator that your child has control of these muscles.

    In addition, to be successful, your child should have independence in self-help skills such as pulling pants up and down, as well as the gross motor skills to climb on and off of the toilet. It may be difficult for a child to manipulate fasteners, so loose-fitting clothing or pants with elastic waistbands may be a better choice during this time. Communication is also a key factor. While many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are non-verbal, they can still be successful if they have the ability to communicate through alternative methods such as gestures or signs. Children should also be able to follow simple directions and show interest in toileting either by indicating they are wet or showing excitement in regard to the restroom. If your child tantrums or yells “no” at the sight of the toilet, they probably aren’t ready to start just yet. Remember, toilet training should not be a battle. If your child resists or tantrums, you may need to take a break from the process.

    Also, if your child has autism, there are other factors to consider. In general, those on the autism spectrum have developmental delays in one or more skill areas. One common characteristic associated with ASD is the rigid adherence to routines. In this case, wearing a diaper may be a long-established routine that can be difficult to break. As mentioned earlier, communication may also be a challenge. Some children with autism may have difficulty with receptive instructions, answering questions or making requests. Simply put, they may not understand how to respond when asked if they need to use the restroom, or they may have difficulty requesting when they need to go. The good news is, there are a variety of strategies to help you overcome these challenges.


  • Here are some Quick Tips

    • Increase Fluids

    While toilet training, it will be important to encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. This will increase their need to go!



    • Underwear

    Many parents will often want to transition to pull-ups before making the jump to underwear. However, pull-ups and diapers are designed to pull the liquid away from your body. If wearing a pull-up, your child may not feel when they are wet or recognize they have had an accident. By placing your child in underwear, you are teaching them to associate the wetness or discomfort with the need to use the toilet.


    • Visual Schedules

    Visual schedules can be a great tool in reducing anxiety by allowing your child to see what is expected. It can also be great for increasing independence as it allows your child to stay on track by checking or referencing the steps. In addition, a first/ then schedule allows your child to see the reinforcement or reward that awaits their success! Timers can also be a visual way to remind yourself or child that it is time for a bathroom break.

    • Accidents

    Accidents will happen. It’s okay but try not to fuss. This can lead to increased anxiety and frustration for both you and your child. Also, if the child is having accidents for attention, you have now reinforced or rewarded this behavior. You can provide your child with a reminder to ask for the restroom next time but in general, provide little acknowledgement to the accident or the cleanup. Instead reinforce attempts or success!



    • Reinforcement

    Provide praise and tangible rewards for attempts and successes. Select a highly preferred item and use this ONLY for reinforcement of toileting. Schedules of reinforcement will vary for each individual but an example may be providing the iPad for 10-15 seconds when your child requests to use the restroom. If they are successful, provide an additional 30-45 seconds. The reinforcement should be immediate!!! Also, until your child is consistently successful, provide the reinforcement at every success.


    • Communication

    Encourage your child to communicate their needs and provide them with alternative methods if warranted. For example, teach your child the appropriate sign to indicate they need to use the restroom. For non-verbal children, a picture exchange or potty card can be beneficial. In addition, teach your child the correct verbiage such as “Let’s potty”, “I need the restroom”, etc.

  • Print out your own schedule

    (click on images below to download) 

  • Step1: Use the toilet

  • Step 2: Clean with toilet paper

  • Step1: Flush the toilet

  • Step 4: Wash your hands

  • Remember, every child is different. What works for one child may not work for another. Also, there is no correct time length to achieve success. Many online articles state potty training can be achieved in a week but this may be an unrealistic goal for many. Work at your own pace! If you feel like your child is not ready, it is okay to take a break and start the training process again at a later date. If all else fails, consult a professional such as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. At Spectacular Kids, we have a focused ABA program that can assist with specific concerns such as potty training. We would be happy to assist you in assessing your child’s needs and developing an individualized program to address such!

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