Tips and Tricks: Potty Training

Oh my goodness gracious...I never thought I'd make it to the point where I could sit down and offer someone else advice on how to potty train a child with autism.  A couple of years ago, I was certain we would never, ever master this task.  We made it!  It was messy...but we did it. 



Step One: Acknowledge your feelings.  This stinks.  Literally.  It can be very, very frustrating for you and for your child. Focus on how cute they are.  I mean, really...look at this face!?


Step Two: Let's do this!

We started with pee first.  Your child may be ready for both pee and poop.  Your child may or may not be ready for overnight training.  Your child may do this completely by himself....or not at all.  As parents, we may just have to accept this.  Hang in there!  Every story is different.  Your version will likely not be like mine. 

Lucas let me know he was ready for pee training by holding his pee at preschool.  He wouldn't use the bathroom at all for many hours straight.  His body was ready, but he didn't know what to do.  I used a modified version of the "3 Day Potty Training" method.  I let him go...totally free (at home).  He and I had a standoff for 8...EIGHT hours!  I gave him a lot of beverages.  When he finally couldn't take it any more, I said "just go...it's ok...go peepee" and he started to pee...right in the kitchen.  I slid over a little potty and he saw the pee go in.  After that, he realized it was ok to pee in the potty.  

Lucas was pee potty trained at about 3 1/2 years old.  It took another year before he was ready for poop training. 

Things that helped me keep most of my sanity during potty training with Lucas:

  • Cheetos: God Bless a Cheeto (I really need a t-shirt that says that)
  • I think that's it.  Just cheetos...the rest was a hot mess challenging.
You know what we used to potty train?  CHEETOS.  Oh the things I used to think I'd never do as a parent....but you know what, it worked.  Lucas is now 7 and he doesn't eat cheetos after he uses the bathroom.  So, I think we are ok-ish.  For a good chunk of my life I heard the "clorox bleachable moment" music in my head.  Not so much now.  So that's good!

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When you're ready to get started with potty training, make a plan...but be ready to burn it to the ground rework it if you need to.  
  1. First....consider what motivates your child?  What do they love?  Arm yourself with that and be ready to reward the tiniest successes, even if it's just sitting in the bathroom.  
  2. Make a first...then schedule.  Can you guess what ours said?  Yep: First Poop....Then Cheetos.
  3. Lower your expectations.  If you're here, you may have already started...and it may not be going well.  That's ok.  Kids with special needs get very used to routine.  If they've pooped in their pants for their entire life, this is going to be a BIG change.
  4. Watch for their signals: touching their privates, holding their pee for extended periods of time, observing others using the bathroom can all be signs of toilet readiness.  
  5. Use social stories.  I've put together some social stories on Boom Learning.  
  6. Use visuals, visuals, and more visuals.  You can find bathroom visuals here.  If finances are tight or you enjoy making your own materials, you might try using Boardmaker community online to create whatever visual suits your family.  
Lucas never let me know that he was ready for poop training.  I decided we were going to give it a good try before kindergarten, and persistence and consistency paid off.  The thing that clicked the most for him was when he *accidentally* pooped in the toilet.  I'd have him sit each day.  One day, he accidentally went.  When he saw that it was ok to poop in the toilet, he was more willing to sit and try each day.  

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Hang in there!!!!  Be consistent.  Try not to scold.  Praise and reward the slightest successes (sitting on the potty, big step).  Take a breath, but you know what....acknowledge your feelings too.  This is hard!!!

Once we mastered potty during the day, Lucas indicated that he didn't want to wear a pullup at night either.  I was at a crossroads; I didn't feel he would be safe going in and out of his room at night and really wasn't sure what to do.  A family member suggested a bedside potty.  We found an adjustable one on amazon.  This has worked well for a couple of years now.  Lucas can manage to use it safely and for the most part cleanly overnight and keeps his underwear clean and dry.  We did have to make visuals specifically for this too, but eventually he slid them under his door at night to let me know he didn't need those anymore.  ;) 

Other recources for toilet training:
Autism Speaks for nonverbal



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