Potty training autistic toddlers requires special accommodations, but it is possible. Here are five practical autism potty training tips for parents.
Tips for toilet training autistic toddlers
If you’ve never potty trained a child, that’s okay. You can learn. Even if you have, each child learns at their own pace. With my nieces, it feels like potty training each one for the first time.
I made a lot of mistakes training my first niece. I’d found an “ultimate guide” to potty training even the most fearful children and followed the tips.
One of those tips: Give them a sippy cup of water and have them walk around the house without a pull-up or underwear.
It was supposed to be easier for her to make the toilet in time. Anytime I saw her acting like she was going to potty, I was to take her to the bathroom. It was a success until she had to pee and went all over the floor.
What comes second nature to you is difficult for someone else to learn, and sometimes even more difficult to teach.
Use these tips to help the process go more smoothly for them and you.
1. Prepare them for their potty training days
Instead of throwing your autistic child into going potty on the toilet, get them used to the idea of using the potty instead.
Read children’s books and have them watch potty training shows. Bring them with you when you go potty. Encourage them to sit on a smaller potty and “wipe” their diaper.
Demystifying the act of using a toilet will help prevent their fear of it later. If they’re scared of the flushing sound, as many sound-sensitive children are prone to, offer headphones to wear while flushing the toilet.
2. Start with pottying in the bathroom
Babies and toddlers are used to relieving themselves while standing or laying. Doing so while sitting is a major change in that habit that they’ll have to get used to. It’s actually better to squat when going #2, and a “squaty potty” accommodates this.
If your autistic child is struggling to adapt to sitting, start with having them relieve themselves in the bathroom, in their pull-up. This way, they will start to associate needing to go with going to the bathroom instead of staying wherever they are.
3. Reward when they go potty
Introduce rewards as early as possible. Stickers, small trinkets, fidget tools, Playdough, and anything else that motivates your child makes a great reward.
Experts advise against rewarding with food, because it encourages eating disorders, but there’s a reason “potty pops” is a legitimate term. Dum-Dums and mini Tootsie Pops are enjoyable without being too tiny a treat.
First-generation gentle parents are trying their best to break the cycle, but it’s hard and sticky. If you utilize potty pops, stick to one brand and size, but offer a variety of flavors. Potty pops are for using the potty only.
As your child grows more comfortable using the toilet and potties without prompting or announcements, they will also stop asking for potty rewards as much. Your child will wean themselves off the rewards when they’re ready.
4. Create a consistent pattern
If you only give rewards when they use the potty while wearing undies, don’t reward when your child goes in their pull-up.
Many autistic children excel at pattern recognition, which is a wonderful teaching tool if you utilize it properly. Pattern recognition is essentially a series of if/then statements:
- If I wear panties and pee in the potty, I get a lolly.
Be wary of taking advantage, because it goes south really quickly:
- If I do my chores, my mom will watch a movie with me.
Later evolves into:
- My mom only spends time with me if I do my chores. This is how she expresses love. If one day I can’t do my chores, then she won’t love me.
Then rejection-sensitive dysphoria kicks in:
- Or does she require me to do my chores because she doesn’t enjoy watching movies with me (spending time with me), and this is her way of postponing (avoiding) it?
Autistic people do recognize facial expressions and other forms of nonverbal communication; we just don’t know what to do with it.
5. Don’t be afraid of regression.
All children learn at their own pace. If your autistic child starts regressing after days, weeks or even months of using the toilet, don’t hold it against them.
Autistic children are easily frustrated. Regression is autistic burnout. Let your child take a break for a week or two, then start again.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of talking to your child and asking them what’s up. I gave my three-year-old niece a day without being told to go potty, because the previous week was chaos. She uses the potty more often now and will even go #2 (poop) without telling anyone.
Comparing your autistic child’s progress to non-autistic child development standards sets you up for frustration and disappointment. Your kids are stressed, too.
Do you have a tip for autism potty training? Share it in the comments below.