Any parent will tell you one of the most overwhelming tasks in the early childhood years is potty training. When a child has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the task can become even more difficult.
Toilet training involves multiple skills at once: recognizing the need to use the bathroom, communicating when they need to do so, following the bathroom routine, and adjusting to all of its sensory components. Yet, in order to gain further independence and an increased quality of life, potty training is an essential step.
Though it may take a little longer to master for some, for the majority of the children we work with at Springtide, potty training is something that can be accomplished with the right support, consistency, and patience.
1. Assess Their Readiness
- Is your child able to communicate a need in some way? This could be verbal, with a gesture, a picture, or through an AAC device.
- Do they have the necessary motor skills such as pulling pants up and down or wiping?
- Do they mind the feeling of being wet?
- Do they understand cause and effect, such as “If I do this…this happens”?
2. Teach the Necessary Communication Skills
An essential part of learning to use the bathroom is the need to ask for help, which for some children with autism is a difficult skill. Because of that, work with your child’s BCBA and RBT to explicitly teach them how to communicate their needs.
Consider the method of communication that works best for the child. Maybe they will use a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) and need the potty icon available. Maybe they will learn to say the word “potty”, even if it doesn’t sound exactly like it. Think about making a card with a picture of a potty they can hand to you when necessary. And, as with any child, prompt them to use the toilet at regular intervals in the early stages.
3. Prepare With Visuals
Children, and especially those on the autism spectrum, tend to respond to visual instruction more than being read or told instructions. Making a visual chart that explains the bathroom routine would be very effective, especially if you had your child participate in making it. Making a photoshoot day to practice all the steps then printing pictures of themselves for the chart can be a fun and exciting way to introduce the experience. Social stories would also be an ideal tool to use here.
Prior to potty training, put together a countdown calendar with visuals to help prepare your child for the major transition they are about to embark on. Ask them to cross out the date at the end of each day, and count how many days are left until it’s time to say goodbye to diapers!
4. Create a Positive Environment
Potty training can quickly and easily become a stressful process for everyone involved. Try your best to keep the experience a positive one.
Use simple reinforcers like m&m’s or stickers only earned by using the potty. Set up a comfortable environment near the potty by including some favorite books or toys. Keep a consistent, nonjudgmental tone, especially when accidents occur. Stay matter-of-fact for any setbacks and celebrate their victories.
5. Keep Records of the Process
Especially in the beginning days, track each time they use the bathroom. Make sure you write the time down. After some time, a pattern will develop, and you will be better able to predict bathroom trips. Share this chart with your child’s BCBA or RBT to update them on your progress.
6. Consider Potential Fears
The setbacks a child faces during the potty training process can usually be attributed to a fear. Flushing, for instance, can be frightening, especially for a child who struggles with loud noises anyway. Some face new fears when they transition from the small training potty to the regular household one. Others hold in bowel movements out of hesitation and fear.
Try your best to remain empathetic of these fears, and then find solutions to them. If your child needs to request a diaper for bowel movements only for a time, or hold it for the nighttime diaper, let them for the time being. If flushing is the problem, consider bringing headphones or asking them to leave the bathroom and flushing the toilet yourself. You are motivating and guiding your child, but following their pace at the same time.
7. Reach Out For Help
Part of our goal with ABA therapy is to give your child more independence in order to live a more fulfilling life. Potty training is an integral help, and we are here to help. We will reinforce your plan while they are with us, and work together with you to formulate a plan specific to your child.
When you prepare ahead of time, and stay both consistent and patient, you will find success; but, as in many things with a child with autism, bringing in your village makes it that much easier. If you are looking for more information on potty training a child on the autism spectrum, and you would like our help, reach out on our website, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at 888-260-1609.
Reach out today and speak with one of our enrollment specialists to get started with Springtide