Having a kid with autism, potty training is often a topic of discussion among parents. When to start, how long it takes, what to do. Autism potty training can take some kids weeks, others years. It took us a few years.
Norrin was diagnosed with autism at 2-years-old, right around the age most kids start potty training. But at the time of diagnosis, he couldn’t even point his finger.
Or clap his hands.
Or wave hello/goodbye.
Potty training should’ve been at the bottom of the list of things I wanted Norrin to learn. But like so many new special needs parents there was this desire for my kid to be “typical.” And I wanted to start potty training Norrin at the age the other parents did.
So a few months into ABA therapy – we started. And then a few weeks later we stopped.
Because potty training a kid who couldn’t speak, stand still or have the motor coordination to point or pull his pants up/down was challenging.
I learned that with everything else, I needed to take potty training step by step. By the time Norrin started Kindergarten, he was (day-time) potty trained. Here are some tips and things to keep in mind if you’re thinking about potty training your autistic child.
1. Ignore what the other kids/parents are doing. Parents of typical kids love to talk about potty training – how they did it and how long it took them. I remember talking to one mom (of a “typical” kid) who expressed her frustration with the process because it took a whole two weeks. And I felt like a failure because we had been working on potty training for months (with little success). I couldn’t think about other kids. I had to concentrate on mine.2.
2. Start when your child is ready. Aside from being emotionally ready, they need to be physically ready. One of the things our ABA therapist stressed was Norrin learning how to pull down his pants and underwear. Think about all the physical movement required to use the bathroom especially for boys. Potty training requires a certain amount of independence and if a child cannot remove his undergarments to go to the bathroom then it may be best to hold off until they can.
3. Everyone needs to be on board. When we started potty training Norrin, we started at home. We communicated with his teachers about potty training and asked for tips. We used to send Norrin to school wearing underwear with a pull-up underneath. (We used Huggies.) Once he got to school – the pull-up was removed and his teachers took him to the bathroom throughout the day. Pull-ups that have side openings worked best for potty training as it allowed teachers to remove it without removing all the clothing. It was a collaborative effort.4.
4. Consistency! You need to be consistent. Once you determine your child is ready. Once you get everyone on board – teachers, caregivers, grandparents – whoever. You need to be consistent. So even when you’re out and about on the weekends, even if your child has a pull-up on (just in case), take them to the bathroom – get them accustomed to public restrooms.5.
5. Patience. It took us more than two years to potty train Norrin. Don’t think potty training will take a week, two weeks, or a month. Do not put your child (or yourself) on a deadline. Start when you start and finish when you finish.6.
6. Have a sense of humor. Potty training is messy. There will be accidents. Accept it and laugh it off whenever possible. Maybe you won’t laugh in the moment, but one day you’ll look back and laugh. I wasn’t laughing on this day, but now it’s one of my funniest parenting stories.
7. Be prepared. Stock up on paper towels, Fabuloso (because it smells good!), detergent, sheets, underwear and pull-ups. Always bring an extra outfit, extra underpants, extra pull-ups. Have an emergency bag in the car, just in case.8.
8. Be respectful. We live in a social media world where excited parents are quick to post milestones to Instagram and Facebook. I get it, I love to do the same but you will never see a potty-training photo in my feed. Yes, I have cute pictures of Norrin sitting on the potty, feet dangling, with a book in his hand but they’re for us only. I wouldn’t post a picture of myself sitting on the toilet – so why would I post one of my kid? That’s just my 2 cents…9.
9. Praise and/or incentive. Norrin loves being praised and he seeks our affection. So when he had a good potty day – we celebrated. We cheered. We clapped. We made a big deal because it was. And it made him feel proud. Give your kid a treat or offer something special to show that they are doing a good job. For Norrin, the praise was enough but other kids like sticker charts or a piece of candy. Find the thing that motivates your kid and go with that.