Potty Training For Children With Autism

Potty training is a very common concern for parents of children with Autism. Many times, children who have Autism might just take longer to successfully gain the skills needed to be independent in this aspect of their lives.

(If this is you, don’t worry – you are definitely not alone!)

Last week, we received a request on this topic from a reader who is looking to help her parents potty train her 7 year old brother.  Here are some tips to get her and her brother on the road to success!

  • The first thing to remember before trying to potty train is that children are in full control of two things: eating and potty training. You’ve just got to accept that you are not in charge of this part of your child’s life. You need to get them on your side to effect lasting change.  In other words, it’s got to be your child’s idea!
  • Before you start a potty training program, you need to identify a potent reinforcer. A reinforcer is something that you’ll use to motivate your child to perform the skill you are trying to teach. (A reinforcer is commonly known as a PRIZE!) We talk a lot about this in our Autism Life Success System because it’s critical that you choose the right reinforcer for your child. This is something that will be used ONLY when the child successfully voids in the toilet.
  • Take a few days to determine behavior patterns. Did you ever notice that you tend to go to the bathroom around the same times of day? This is true for kids, too. Get a sense of when they typically need to void – how long after they eat or drink do they need to go? Determine a pattern.
  • Use the behavior patterns you’ve observed to establish a schedule. This is the part where you’ll live in the bathroom for a little while until you get some successes under your belt. Let’s say you establish that every 30 minutes you’ll go into the bathroom with your child to “try” to go. Set a timer, and every 30 minutes you’ll walk with your child and prompt them to go to the bathroom. If your child responds to written or picture schedules, they can be a helpful tool to help your child work through the steps. For each step, you’ll need a picture demonstrating the desired activity. Again, you are establishing a routine.
  • Once your child is on the toilet, use some visuals to show the reinforcer and say in your calmest voice, ” First potty, then _[reinforcer]_”. Be consistent! This is where parents might be tempted to give in a bit, but it’s critical to set the expectation and reward. Just expect some crying and other not very fun behaviors.
  • Once your child voids, even if it’s only a little bit, you need to give the reward immediately! Do not wait! Remember you are trying to shape their behavior so it might take a few small successes to achieve a big success. Throw a party and celebrate each and every successful step and don’t get discouraged. You can do it!

If you try these steps and you are feeling stumped or have questions, please post your question. This can be individualized and sometimes just takes some additional information to get it just right.