How Do You Start Potty Training with an Autistic Child?

This question is fairly easy to answer:  the adults build their OWN toilet training skills first!

Why is that critical to success?

Because kids with ASD will need trainers with better observational skills, better ability to adapt the environment and their prompts, and better understanding that the job isn’t done until the child is 100% independent and confident.  Adults who have trained neurotypical kids won’t be nearly as successful as those who understand that  potty training the child with ASD requires a different skill set.

What happens if you don’t consider raising your skill set before you begin training?  You are surprised with how difficult it is!  You won’t know what to use as rewards/reinforcers, when they should need to “Go”, and you won’t be ready to handle your own emotions when accidents occur.

In short, you set yourself up for frustration and set the child up for failure.

Good news:  parents, teachers, and therapists can start building these training skills right now, today:

  • Learn the natural biological rhythm of a child’s elimination patterns.  This may mean keeping diapers off in a safe location and/or tuning into the child’s unique elimination behaviors.  Anyone who has seen a child scamper behind a couch to poop knows exactly what I mean.  The universal sign for peeing is flexing forward and pressing knees together.  It can be done in sitting, including sitting in a stroller.  Watch for it.  Even kids in comas have slight biological responses to elimination.  So alert kids, even kids who aren’t verbal, will have them too.  Become a skilled observer.
  • Learn what helps them attend and recall routines.  Some kids need strict routines, some need to hear your voice change tone, and some need to see a light flash or a bell ring.  Learn what already works for a child, and plan to use and expand it in potty training.
  • Learn what related skills they already have or need to develop.  Being unable to manage clothing will make a trained child have accidents.  Work on those skills now, before formal training.  Being unable to handle an accident or being unwilling to respond to instructions out of defiance or inability to orient to your voice will result in the same thing.

Occupational therapists are the members of your team that should be able to help you the most.  Why?  If you think that using the toilet is a behavioral skill, think about the last time YOU used the facilities.  How did you know you had to “go”?  Bet it wasn’t because it was time to go.  How did you get to the toilet, remain seated on the toilet long enough, know you were done, and then wipe and wash?  Toileting is a sensory-motor skill with behavioral components!  Build the sensory and motor skills in the child with ASD to succeed!


You can contact me above to schedule training consultation on Zoom, or …

I wrote a book for you!

The Practical Guide to Toilet Training the Autistic Child covers everything from pre-training to safely using the bathroom in a public location.  I didn’t leave anything out.  Really.

  1. You get a readiness checklist that covers your readiness as well as the child’s readiness.
  2. The section on pre-training includes “Collaborative Diapering”, my strategy for building skills while the child is still months or even years away from formal training.
  3. You will understand the pros and cons of the Bootcamp Approach as well as the gradual approach to toilet training.  When you know what works best for your family or your facility, you can make the decision with confidence.  (BTW, you may end up doing both; one at a time!  Learn why in the book!)
  4. There are chapters on how to optimize the bathroom environment, pick the right clothes, and even the right toilet paper.  Because you want every advantage for success, and ignoring simple choices that reduce accidents and increase independence is essential for everyone’s mental health.

Where can you grab a copy?  Where else?  On  Amazon !

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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