How To Train An Autistic Child

Last Updated on February 7, 2021

Potty training can be a daunting task, but training an autistic child can be an extremely big challenge. We are cognizant of the fact that an autistic child can take longer to master everyday skills. Which in turn means teaching them potty training/toilet skills may take an extra longer time.

There are lot of contributing factors to this, such as sensory overstimulation which can lead to challenges with toilet training. Most children don’t have the necessary motor skills to execute bathroom routines, while others may not even have the intellect to realize when to use the bathroom. And an autistic child may not know how to express themselves either verbally or non-verbally to communicate to somebody when they need to go to the bathroom.

It is therefore vital to take these factors into considerations when deciding whether a child is ready for toilet training or not. Caregivers or parents of autistic children need not worry or fret too much because for every problem or challenge the is always a solution available. With tones of patience and a proper structure in place with lots of reinforcement, toilet training can be achieved.

With this article we will try to offer the best yet simple and easy way to help make toilet training a positive experience for both parents and children suffering from autism.

Can an autistic child be potty/toilet trained?

As long as there are no underlying medical issues that can cause the child to not urinate or have a bowel movement then there is absolutely no reason why an autistic child cannot be trained. Just be sure to look out for indicators of any urological problems, such as unpleasant, a lot or very little urine, unable to hold in urine, showing that he is uncomfortable or experience when pooping or peeing, the poop being too hard and not being able to pass out and having less than 2 poops a week.

Before taking the plunge into the deep end by toilet training an autistic child it is recommended that you take your child for full medical examine by the doctor just to be sure the are no underlying medical issues.

At what age can an autistic child start potty training?

Every child is born different, therefore their needs and skills may differ too, meaning there is no stipulated age at which an autistic child can begin toilet training. Rather focus on your child’s developmental skills. Beneath is 5 questions that may help you ascertain if your child is ready to embark on the journey to independence;

  • Are his motor skills sufficient enough for him to able to carry on a bathroom routine?
  • Is he able to pull down and up his pants with little to minimal assistance?
  • Is he able to pick up or carry out simple toilet tasks such as, wiping or even sitting on the toilet?
  • Does he fully recognize where the exact location of his toilet is in his own house?
  • Does he not offer any resistance when placed on the potty training seat or transitional potty?

Signs that your an autistic child is now ready to be potty/toilet trained.

There are sign that an autistic child can display to show that he is ready for potty/toilet training:

  • They are super uncomfortable with the feeling of a wet or soiled diaper against their skin and will show this by taking off the diaper, or being vocal about their displeasure at wearing the wet or soiled diaper and may ask for a diaper change.
  • Will enthusiastically sit on the toilet, flush and will observe what and how any adult does they business in the toilet.
  • They will often take an adult by the hand and lead them to the bathroom for a fresh diaper change.

Steps to follow when toilet/potty training an autistic child.

Now that your child has shown you that they are ready for potty training it is time to help him along this new journey towards independence. It is time for him to join the big boys club, no more diapers!

Here are some steps to help you and him tackle this new challenge;

  • Get yourself ready for the training ahead. Training an autistic child requires a lot of thought and planning. Don’t do it if you haven’t pre-planned as this can lead to frustration for both you and your child. Be cognizant of the fact that training has to be in two stages, with the first part being the actual planning phase to be closely followed by the setting up phase.

The beginning, Planning Phase. During this time it is very vital that you begin by gathering all essential materials needed for this to be a positive experience for you both. Here are 10 items you will need before you and your child start up on this new challenge.
1) Potty seat & stool, or a transitional potty, 2) You will need lots of underwear to last at least 2weeks ( be sure to get him the ones with his favorite cartoon characters) 3) you will need a timer to ensure he doesn’t miss out on his bathroom routine and remain consistent.

4) Always buy wipes because you need them to make sure his little butt is clean after every bathroom visit. 5) Give him plenty of fluids all through out the day so he stays hydrated and also prevent constipation. 6) Make his toilet training as visual as possible by creating a chart with pictures depicting his toilet cycle, so it is as clear as possible to what the entire exercise is all about.

7) Prepare a basket with all his favorite toys and books in it, keep the basket in the bathroom for him to reach into during each toilet visit he makes. This will help him stay entertained as adjusts to his new road to independence. 8) Have a reinforcement bin containing all his favorite candy, toys, treats, stickers, iPad etc. All this serve as rewards for every successful toilet visit and also keep him motivated plus all amped up about the entire process.

9) Create a data chart for tracking and monitoring all child’s bathroom visits, each bowel movement and whether he got to the bathroom dry or not. 10) Get some toilet training books or any books that will peeve your child’s interest so he keeps his eyes on the ball all through out the training process.

  • Roll out, The setting up stage. As soon as you have successfully implemented the planning stage you can then set your plan in motion by jumping into the setting up plan/stage.  Choose  a bathroom that will be convenient for both you and your child to set up for the all important training regime. Be sure to make the bathroom as visually appealing as possible for your child just as a way to entice him to want to use it. Now set up everything!
  • Place his potty seat and stool at the foot of the toilet or the transitional potty in the bathroom for readiness to begin with the training. Have his favorite underwear and timer in a room close by for convenience. Make sure his activity basket is placed within reach so he can access it with ease whenever he uses the toilet.
  • Be sure to hide away the reinforcement basket so it is not within his reach but in a place you can easily access when you need to give him a reward for his good work. Place the visual chart in a place where he can be able to view it when sitting on the toilet or potty. This will help him stay on track. Have the datasheet hanging in the bedroom near the training bathroom for your convenience.

Time to put things into full swing, Implementing the potty training routine. Remember that this phase requires sufficient time, good structure, consistency and bucket loads of patience. With more sound structure and consistency given to children living with autism the better the success rate of their toilet or potty training.

Set a date for which to begin the toilet/potty training but make sure that it doesn’t coincide with a time when the child has a lot of activities on his calendar as this will just overwhelm him. find the appropriate time to start the training, the best times are usually in the summer time when it all warm and pleasant.

Once you have picked a date to start you can start planning or preparing a visual countdown calendar for him and read him potty training books/stories to amp him up for this new transition in his life. Always begin the training early in the morning with the words ”potty party” at this party we will be waving and bidding farewell to diapers and saying yippee to big boy underwear.

Then show him the undies with his favorite cartoon characters on them that you bought, also let him touch them to feel how dry they are then explain to him how he too needs to keep them dry! Try as much as possible to encourage him to stay dry by showing him the potty in the bathroom to use for peeing and pooping.

Encourage him with simple words such as ”Staying dry is good”, Pee goes in the potty and poop goes in the potty too.” Be sure to show him the reinforcement bin and reassure him that he can certainly get any of those treats if he pees and poops in the potty.

NB it is quite alright for children with autism to wear a diaper or pull up pants at night-time until they are fully potty trained.

Once your little one is successfully in underwear, you may begin with the potty training process with the following steps;

  • Give him more salty foods that will make him thirsty therefore making him want to drink more fluids. Give him his favorite drink just to beef up the fluid intake. Also if he loves fruits and veggies be sure to give him a plentiful dose of these all through out the day.
  • Consistently take him to the bathroom every 20mins daily. Mark the datasheet after every bathroom visit. If he has an accident in between don’t worry, just stay calm and continue to encourage him with the simple words ” pee goes in the potty and poop goes in the potty”.

    When you put him on the toilet and he has managed to stay dry give him a compliment such as ”well done Harry, you have been a good boy you stayed dry”. then reach out to your reinforcement bin and give him a treat for this job well done!

  • Always keep your little man entertained whilst in the bathroom by giving him one of his favorite toys or books to read while he does his business. If he has a good bathroom visit be sure to reinforce this behavior, tell him good pee or good poop! remember to use those wipes after every toilet visit to ensure his bottom is clean.

    Continue with this routine until bedtime when he can wear his pull up pants.  A pattern should begin to form here now after a week of consistency. Then things will flow seamlessly, remember child with autism strive under consistency and routine.

More Potty Training Tips.

After a week of successfully going to the toilet for both peeing and pooing you can then add a few more tips to the training;

  • It is now time to teach him how to ask to use the bathroom/toilet. Even if your child who suffers from autism is verbal or non-verbal it is important for him to learn how to communicate when he needs to use the bathroom. Always prompt your child to communicate that he needs to use the bathroom whenever the urge arises.

    Do this with every bathroom trip as away of showing him that he must always communicate whenever he needs the bathroom. For the verbal prompts teach him to say ”want to go potty” for the non-verbal child just teach him with sign language.

    If your child quickly adapts to saying ”potty” or ”want to go potty” be quick at taking him by the hand and rushing him to the toilet. Then when you are done be sure to reinforce him for a job well done!

  • His way to independence.  Once your little man is very comfortable with going to the toilet to pee and poop you can then encourage him to finish off his toileting routine by teaching him to wipe his little bottom and flushing afterwards, followed by pulling up his pants. Always remember to show him the cycle chart just as a way for him to adapt to the entire toilet process without being aided. This will encourage him to be more independent, keep observing him for progress and once you see that he is managing then reinforce this independence with a reward.
  • Hygiene is highly important, so teach him to wash his hands after every toilet visit. Once your little one has become fully potty trained you can then finish of the toilet training by teaching him how to wash his hands after using the toilet.

    Create a visual chart with the sequences for hi to follow and put it right in front of the bathroom sink. The hand washing sequence should read as follows; 1) Turn on the warm water 2) Soap your hands, 3) Rub soaped hands together,

    4) Rinse your hands under running water, 5) Turn off the water tap. 6)Dry your hands with a towel. Remember not to overwhelm your little one with too much information, never try to teach potty training and washing hands at the same time.

    You want the potty training experience to be a lovely time of learning for him. by teaching him a lot of skills at once you will just be setting yourself up for disappointment and your child up for failure. Don’t forget that potty training is a step by step process so your child needs to first master that before moving on to other skills.

  • Familiarity. All kids with autism like things to predictable and very routine. You will observe as you go along that your child only uses 1bathroom and 1bathroom only. Yep the bathroom he used for his potty training is usually the one he will choose to use at all times. Once he is very comfortable with the potty training routine you can then try to encourage him to use other bathrooms in the house but don’t pressurize him, give him time.

      Concerns Parents may have about potty training

when you have an autistic child, often fear that your child may be very different to other kids and you want to shield away at all times.  But you don’t have to feel that way, with bucket loads of patience and a sound structure you and your child may overcome any obstacles that may come your way and come out victorious.

Here are some questions that most moms may have about their autistic child.

  • What if my child won’t go near or even sit on a toilet because it scares him?  when your child who suffers from autism is afraid of the toilet or transitional potty , you will need to find ways to encourage him to sit on the toilet or potty.  May be first try have him use the potty outside of the toilet until he is comfortable enough to use it in the bathroom or even use the toilet.
  • What if my child is just purely interested in just only flushing the toilet?  You need to explain to your child that he can only flush after he has peed or pooped in the toilet. It is not just for playing and having fun. then you can restrict him from the toilet by keeping the door shut and by putting up a sign that will show him that this is a toilet and not his playroom.
  • What should I do if my son is terrified of flushing the toilet? Most children with autism are afraid of the flushing sound of a toilet because the loud sound can overwhelm their sensory systems. If your little man is afraid of the flushing sound of the toilet then don’t flush with him in the room. Wait until he has left the toilet before flushing.
  • What if the only thing my toddler seems to be interested in whilst in the bathroom is just playing with the toilet paper?  If your little man just wants to play with the toilet paper then make sure it is not within his reach and only give it to him when he needs to wipe after pooping. You have to teach him that toilet paper is only to be used after pooping and it is not a play toy.
  • What should I do if he loves playing with water all the time?  Him wanting to play with toilet water means that he has a sensory need that needs to be addressed. find appropriate places whether inside the house or outside the house where you can set up for him to play and enjoy the water. Restrict entry into the bathroom by keeping the door shut. NB. all autistic children love water and if they still want to play with water then they are not at all ready for potty/toilet training. This child will only be ready as soon as they learn and appreciate that water can be played with in special designated areas.
  • What if my son refuses to poo in the toilet and then gets constipated as a result? Children with autism are known to want to hold back poo during the process of toilet/potty training. They will often wait until their next diaper wear to have a bowel movement. If your son is a culprit of this naughty behavior don’t feel discouraged remember peeing and pooping are two different categories of potty/toilet training. You need to first get passed the beginning which is peeing before you can then take to the next step which is pooping. Pooping is a separate exercise because it also comes with other side skills such as wiping and washing of hands.




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