While parents can find potty-training any child to be a challenge, parents who are trying to potty-train a child with autism can face some special challenges.  Below are some guidelines to help parents who are attempting this challenge.

Why is Potty-Training Autistic Children more Difficult?

There are many reasons why potty-training can be more of a challenge for children with autism. These include:

  • A fear of change in the routine; autistic children are used to have their diapers changed and having to now use the toilet can upset them since they are fixated on rituals.
  • A lack of body knowledge that tells them that they need to go to the bathroom in the first place.
  • Fear of sitting on the toilet or of the noise of flushing.
  • Difficulty mastering dressing and undressing oneself, which is necessary in order for toilet use to take place.
  • Language barrier which will keep an autistic child from telling a parent that he or she needs to use the bathroom.

When is it Time to Potty Train?

There are certain indications that a child is ready to be potty trained, including:

  • The child is able to stay dry for 1-2 hours at a time
  • The child appears to fidget or otherwise indicate the need for the bathroom

Choosing the right time for you to start potty training is important, too:

  • Start when there are few engagements so that the experience will be low in stress
  • Concentrate on the one behavior that you want to change

Tips for Making the Potty-Training Experience Less Stressful

There are ways to make the potty-training less stressful — for both you and your child.  Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Children with autism love ritual and routine, so use this to your advantage by making the toileting session into a ritual, too, and go through the same routine each time so that they will get used to it.
  • Make sure that your child is able to dress and undress and that they are wearing things like simple, drawstring pants in order to facilitate this.
  • Before beginning a potty-training routine, study your child’s behavior for several days and keep a journal. Try to figure out what times of day he or she is more likely to urinate or defecate — and then make a schedule around those times.
  • Don’t worry if the potty-training doesn’t take right away. Keep trying and keep to a schedule that you follow: aim for sitting down on the toilet around 6 times each day to get your child used to it.  If your child begins to wet or soil themselves, try to get them into the bathroom to at least finish there.  And when you are changing their diaper, do it in the bathroom itself so that they begin to associate the place with urination and defecation.
  • Don’t ask your child if he or she has to go to the bathroom while you are in the potty-training process; simply tell them that it is time to go to the bathroom and take them there.
  • Don’t try this alone. Enlist the help of other important people in your child’s life — family members, teachers, therapists — who will get on board with the potty training and do it in the same method that you are trying at home. This will help give your child the consistency he or she needs.
  • Use simple words to instruct your child on what to do and put up visual cues alongside the toilet to help your child understand what is expected of him.
  • Consider making dietary changes for your child — such as increasing their fluid or fiber intake — that will also increase their need to use the bathroom.
  • Lastly, be patient: potty-training might take months to achieve and it will not likely be a linear process: in other words, your child might have periods of regression or accidents along the way. Keep this in mind and praise your child when he or she does use the bathroom to help reinforce this behavior.

In short, potty-training a child with autism will be a challenge. But following the guidelines and suggestions above might make the process easier on both you and your child and allow them a greater degree of independence as they grow up.