One of the struggles that many parents of autistic children run into, is that their older child still isn’t fully toilet trained. Most, not all, children are fully toilet trained by the time they’re 4. But, for our autistic children? This just may not be the case. For many of us, we start wondering if we can find a large special needs potty for toilet training.
Add to that, most of the existing resources and books are geared towards younger children. While we can still adapt some of those resources, like books, we also want to be respectful to our autistic child.
Common toilet training difficulties for older children on the autism spectrum
Have you ever tried to explain the process of why we go to the bathroom? I mean really, have you thought it all through? This is something that we often don’t think about, but for our autistic children; it’s important.
Not only do we need to explain the how of toilet training, but we also need to explain the why.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at a few other issues:
- Sensory issues (sitting on the toilet, noise of flushing)
- Existing gastrointestinal issues
- Resistance to change
- Lack of motivation
- Lack of motor skills necessary
- Having to use different toilets (didn’t think about this one, did you? Neither did I! But when that realization hit, there was a huge a-ha moment)
Some children may not respond to the traditional potty training methods that use rewards or incentive charts. And, for children who are used to wearing a diaper or pull-up, they are also used to having a bowel movement while standing.
Now, you’re faced with the additional challenges of:
- Eliminating the diaper
- Transition from standing to sitting
- Use of toilet paper to wipe (which is also a skill that needs to be taught)
- Flushing the toilet
- Washing hands
How do I know if my older autistic child is ready to toilet train?
The signs are similar for younger children:
But how do you know? Especially if you have a non-speaking autistic child who can’t communicate this to you in words?
Well, for me, it meant teaching my daughter the sign for toilet. And beyond that, we also tracked everything.
At home, it was a little bit easier to go through this process because well, we were no-holds barred. And taking away that diaper? That was especially difficult because she still wears one at night. It’s a just in case thing and I’ll be honest, it does make things slightly easier for me.
And here’s the other thing, moms and dads, you also need to make sure that you’re ready for this whole process.
Be prepared to do more laundry, invest in mattress covers, and plenty of pairs of spare underwear. As your older child makes progress, also be prepared to wipe and help with flushing.
This toilet training business is not always pretty but it is definitely worth it for that increased independence.
Should I use a regular toilet or a larger potty?
Honestly, we skipped the whole potty training phase with our daughter. It just didn’t make sense and trying to find a larger potty for a special needs child? Forget it. What you can do, however, is use a camping toilet.
Let’s face it, these work the same way as a potty chair for a younger child. So, just keep that in mind as well. Sometimes the smell.. well, I won’t get started on that because I can already feel my stomach getting queasy.
Toilet Training Schedule for an older autistic child
First, let’s break this down: you need to have dual schedules here. One for urinating and one for bowel movements. Truth be told? The urinating will probably come easier. The methods that we used are similar to ABA principles. I know, I know– there’s a lot of controversy over ABA, but it’s this repetition and modified for our family.
- Be consistent with your schedule (for both urination or bowel movements) — often we call this tripping. But it doesn’t mean you’re actually tripping your child. It just means that you’re getting them used to going to the bathroom on a consistent basis. Intervals of 15-30 minutes tend to work best.
- If your child responds well with positive reinforcement or rewards? Incorporate that here.
- Start using a communication system: whether this is through a visual schedule or sign language
- If an accident does happen, you’ll need to introduce the replacement action.
It can be trickier with the bowel movements because:
- Your child is used to standing up
- They’re still in a diaper or pull-up
- They can’t sit still long enough
- Fear of using the toilet
You’ll need to identify all possible or potential roadblocks and come up with a plan to address them. This may seem excessive to you, but trust me- it’s necessary. Do not skip this step.
Is it possible to toilet train a non-verbal autistic child?
This shouldn’t be a question or doubt, moms and dads — but I get it. Especially when the potty training experts keep driving home the point that one of the keys for potty training is communication.
Be persistent, have faith in your child, and have faith in yourself.
Learn the sign for toilet and use it often. I taught that sign to my autistic daughter and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that she was using it on her own at school. Her classroom teacher told me after meeting my daughter, she took to her right away. That part didn’t really surprise me as she’s always taken better with adults than with peers to a certain extent.
What she did though was this: whenever she had to use the bathroom, she would find an adult and then make the sign for toilet. If they didn’t respond right away, she would attempt to fold their hand into the sign. Why? Because that’s how I taught her.
And it stuck.