Potty Training an Autistic Child

Lessick - potty training 1Raising an autistic child comes with a lot of challenges. One of the biggest ones that I have faced with my ten year old son is potty training. I would read books and articles on the subject. I would go around the internet and ask questions on different social networks. In the end, I had to customize a program just for my son.

There are several different methods that are recommended for children diagnosed with autism who are having difficulty being potty trained. If your child is autistic, it doesn’t automatically mean you will have difficulties or may never be able to potty train your child. Each child is different, but there is a high percentage of autistic children that have a hard time with this skill.

One method is using a schedule. I used this method for several years, but did not have any success. I would take my son to the bathroom at the same time throughout the day, every day. His school would do the same thing. It didn’t promote independence in toileting skills, in fact, it made him more dependent on us. I have heard from other parents that using this method with their child led to independence. As I said earlier, each child is different.

Another method is the reward system. I tried this method, also. It didn’t work. I tried picture exchange (since my son is nonverbal), it didn’t work. At ten years of age, my son was still in pull-ups. Finally, I came up with the right method that my son would respond to. It was reward and punish (or give and take-away). I explained to him what we were doing and why. If he wet his pull-up, he would have one of his favorite items taken away. If he went to the bathroom without being told, he got an item back. If he went a whole day, completely independent and no accidents, he received a special reward of his choosing.

It took two weeks of reminding him to stay dry, but not telling him to go to the bathroom, before he started to make great progress. He would have days that he would lose all of his things and he would try to earn them back the next day. Around the third week, he started to go a complete day without an accident. By the fourth, he was out of pull-ups completely, no verbal reminders were needed, and trips out in public were accomplished without accidents, too.Lessick - potty training 2

The key was to find the right motivation for our son. I knew he was ready to be potty trained a long time ago. The problem was that he didn’t want to be. Once he started losing things that he loves, he realized that it was easier to go along with what he was being asked. Now that he is fully potty trained, he is so much happier. No more awful rashes that require medication to clear up. No more smelly pull-ups. No matter how old your child is, don’t give up. It is never too late for your child to be potty trained. You just have to find the right method and motivation for your child. There are other methods that have worked with children with autism. I have not listed them all. This is because I feel that the best method needs to come from what works best with your child. You are the best judge of that.

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About the Author

I am a WAHM mom of two children. I have a 6 year old daughter and a 10 year old son. I like sharing information with everyone about autism and raising an autistic child. I operate an online blog called AutismLearningFelt. I share information, personal stories, as well as do product reviews and giveaways of autism and mom related products. My best advice to other parents raising a child with autism is to remember that loving your child is your number one priority.


7 Responses to “Potty Training an Autistic Child”

  1. Sheri Chalnick says:

    I loved your article. Thank you so much for writing about your experience. I know that my son will do anything with the right motivation, so I think I will be going to the store to pick up some Pokemon cards. 🙂 Thanks again and I’ll let you know how things turn out.

  2. Classical Guitar Tuners says:

    Excellent read, I just passed this onto a colleague who was doing just a little study on that. And he actually bought me lunch because I found it for him smile So allow me rephrase that: Thanks for lunch!

  3. Brittany says:

    I have a 8 year old son who is mostly non-verbal.. Has words but little communication.. I have tried potty training and failed for years.. He could not be more disinterested.. I have gotten him to do #1 standing a few times but it never clicks.. Its like this.. Start in morning around time he wakes NO diapers at all (which he is ok with) go to bathroom every 15-20 min, push fluids, reward, we do this for 5-10 min at a time standing in front of toilet (which he thinks is hillarious) anyways it has takes us every time until about 2-4pm to finally do the #1 and all of them have been standing there (because I know he is about to bust) up to 1-2 hours.. The coming and going after 5-10 mins does not work. We have to stand there for litterally an hour before he does it.. Then he wont aim so pee goes everywhere.. lol I try and aim for him and he will stop the stream and not start back everytime.. The main issue we have is he will NOT sit to do either #1 or #2.. Never has! Even on long road trips we have to stop so he can stand to pee.. He has not done anything laying or sitting since we was a baby.. Even while sleeping no accidents. Ony standing always. He does not seem to be able to sitting (I know thats just him its no medical reason)… I have no clue how to re train this behavior.. I am at a lost.. As you can understand standing if bathroom while I also have a 5 year old to see to is HARD! It makes it harder to do when each time is like the first again.. He thinks its funny gets very excited yet it still starts all over again the next time.. Also I HAVE NO CLUE how to #2 train when he will not eliminate while sitting! Please someone tell me what to do.. Everyone around us keeps telling us our window is closing.. This scares me. I knwo this is what is best for his future and it makes me scared, sick, and guilty that I can not seem to figure this out… If anyone has any advice please help me. I want this so bad for his future.. He has come so far. He is a sweet awesome boy. He deserves better. If anyone can help pls message me at rblaster@bellsouth.net THANK YOU!

    • Rosie Reeves Rosie says:

      I have a couple of thoughts on this.

      First of all, this may be one area (and maybe the only area) of his life that your son feels he can control. You say he thinks it’s funny, to him he is just playing a game. I’m sure you understand all about how even negative attention can be seen as positive to kids, so all the fuss and focus you are putting on it may just be part of why it is continuing.

      Maybe if you give him more choices throughout his day he will feel more in control of other aspects of his world. I know sometimes autistic children are very resistant to change, but maybe you could offer him a choice of where to sit, which foods to eat, which music to listen to…since he is non-verbal you may need to offer him picture cards or teach him sign language. You probably already have a communication system worked out.

      My other thought is to find a desirable reward that motivates him, as the article suggests. What does he love to do? Does he use an Ipad? Have a favorite show or food? He can earn time doing what he enjoys for each successful potty time (and maybe #2 earns double time!!). Taking things away and punishing is sometimes the only thing that works, but I tend to believe in positive reinforcement. There are actually targets you can buy to float in the toilet bowl for aiming, or you can also use Cheerios as targets. Since it already is a game to him, maybe you can use that and actually give the game some rules. Score points for targets, and again let him earn a reward/treat for a good score.

      Also, kids are copycats. I don’t know how you handle potty issues in your house, but if he sees how everyone else does it maybe he will start to follow your leads. If there is a favorite toy (a Rubik’s cube, iphone) or book he loves maybe you could only give him access to it while he is sitting on the toilet. Or take him shopping for a special sitting-on-the-potty toy. He ONLY has access to it while he is sitting on the toilet – as soon as he stands, his time with the toy is over. Try to remind him that you are not taking it away from him, he can have it any time he wants it – by sitting on the toilet.

      Any new thing will take time and may be upsetting for him, but keep at it. You know you are only doing what is best for him and his future.

      Good luck!


  4. Brittany says:

    this proves what I thought.. No one has any new advice we have not tried… lol. ot saying that meanly, its just that every single thing you said we have done, are doing, failed to work etc… sighh… 🙂 Thanks for the advice. We will just keep trying. I really hoped for some new advice. But, I think we have it all and just have to figure out how to make it work.. Thanks again!

    • Rosie Reeves Rosie says:

      How do you react when he laughs? If you walk away as soon as he starts goofing around he will get the message that this is serious. What are his doctors and therapists suggesting? Is he in training pants?

      • Rosie Reeves Rosie says:

        Also, some kids may never be able to be trained. If that is the case then you can remove all that stress from your life and figure out an alternative.

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