Why Does Autism Create so Many Toilet Training Struggles for Kids (and Their Exhausted Parents)?

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It isn’t that parents and professionals think potty training an autistic child will be easy.  They know it could be a challenge and it could take longer than training a neurotypical child.  They simply don’t expect it to be so consistently tough and to have so many unexpected twists and turns.

Some of them can be avoided completely.

Many of them can be minimized, and even normalized.

My new book, The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child: Sensory-Motor Secrets for Success, is all about teaching this essential skill faster and with fewer struggles.  Understanding the basics of sensory processing disorders or knowing what to do with rigid or stereotypical behaviors, or knowing how to potty train a neurotypical kid, will not automatically make you the “autism potty whisperer”.  That would be nice.

It doesn’t work that way.

That is why Jamie Glowacki, the author of the best book on training neurotypical kids,  “Oh Crap Potty Training”, tells her readers with special needs kids who need to be toilet trained to go speak with their child’s…you guessed it…occupational therapist!!!


The challenges ahead for a parent or a professional that wants to do toilet training with an autistic child fall into some general categories.  These are not listed by importance or sequence in training.  In truth, you have to be working on many skills at once in formal training.  You can tease them apart in Targeted Pre-Training, one of the cornerstones of my approach.. But here are the big stumbling blocks for just about everyone:

  • Physical Challenges.  Almost all autistic kids have a physical issue that impacts potty training.  It could be low muscle tone (hypotonia).  It could be sensory processing disorder.  It could be digestive issues like constipation.  These must be dealt with if you want to be successful.  If not, you will end up teaching a splinter skill like peeing into the potty, but it will not be useful in everyday life or it will be vulnerable to any change in location, timing, source of support, etc.
  • Social/Emotional Issues.  If there is no motivation to please an adult, no ability to enjoy and seek praise, and no desire for independence, you have a long road ahead, my friend.  Add in a streak of defiance, in which frustrating an authority figure is far more pleasurable than satisfying an adult, and you have a recipe for failure.  Autistic kids tend to have very short fuses.  Without some frustration tolerance, accidents become nightmares.  What is the easiest way to avoid an accident?  You guessed it; to insist on wearing a diaper.  You cannot fail with a diaper.
  • Cognitive and Communication Delays.  It is possible to toilet train a child who has no verbal communication.  They can use sign language, PECS, and gestures.  A child needs to have an 18-month level of cognition and receptive language for successful potty training.  This allows them to understand and remember routines, know the names of body parts and materials/equipment used, and follow simple directions.
  • Adult Reactions.  Teaching a complex skill isn’t a breeze for everyone.  Loving a child or being a terrific teacher or therapist isn’t enough.  The frustration, the messes, the stop-and-start of training, the focus on something that many adults feel embarrassed about or even are disgusted by…it is a lot to deal with.  I have no desire to become a local potty trainer, but in the area where I live, there is money to be made if I did.  Wealthy people (and no-so-wealthy people) will pay up to turn this job over to someone else.  My book doesn’t ignore this, and supports parents and professionals directly to build their skills and handle how hard this job really is.

So…I decided to write a book for everyone with an autistic child that wants to do toilet training right the first time!

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This book covers all the aspects of toilet training the autistic child, and doesn’t forget how hard it is on parents and professionals.

What’s Inside?

  • Learn what true readiness is by using the expanded checklist.  It includes how the adults doing training need to be as ready as the child!
  • Grab the best equipment for training with the Resource List.  When you have good tools you can eliminate some of the problems that arise before they happen.
  • Understand where the tough spots will be and address them before you do formal training.  Targeted Pre-Training, and the revolutionary concept of Collaborative Diapering, mean that every autistic child, at any level of ability, can start to develop the skills that will get them to the finish line, and they can start today!
  • Not someone who reads non-fiction easily?  I got you!  Narratives describing three fictional kids and their families on the journey through potty training make the strategies in the book come alive.  Follow Andrew, Amanda, and Dylan as they develop skills and confidence.  These stories illustrate but also humanize the challenges and the solutions in the book.
  • Potty training can get really hard.  REALLY hard.  This book doesn’t ignore that stuff.  Smearing and playing with poop, defiance, fears, digestive issues; it is all in here.  If you say you are going to help people do training, you have to “go there”.  I do.
  • Toilet training isn’t done until a child can use the public bathroom independently.  Everything from the bathroom at Nana’s to the one at the airport.  This is the Everest of training, and it doesn’t happen because you wish it to be so.  You have to build skills here too.  And this topic has its own chapter in my book.

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child:  Sensory-Motor Secrets for Success is available as a paperback on Amazon, and as a printable download on Your Therapy Source .

Grab a copy today, and feel empowered to begin training right away!

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By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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