How We Potty Trained Our Autistic Son

Written By Autism Parents

A collection of parents navigating our way around raising children with autism

How We Potty Trained Our Autistic Son

One of the biggest steps towards independence and hope for the future is potty training your autistic child, or it certainly was for us anyway. In this article I will explain how we achieved potty training so hopefully you can have the same success as we had.

Our Experience Of Potty Training A Child With ASD

To start at the start, our son has some quite severe needs. In the UK you certainly aren’t provided any sort of a scale in terms of where they sit on the spectrum but even through a mothers eyes I would judge him as 6 or 7 out of 10, assuming 10 was the most severe.

Nearly every part of his development has been challenging, from standing to walking, to eating to talking. He is now 7 years old.

For all the challenges we have had as a family, toileting would be probably the one which caused us most stress and difficulty. Many reading this article would have experienced the judgemental glances by other parents when they catch a glimpse of a nappy/diaper. Then you have got the difficult situation where they decide to do a ‘number 2’ at inconvenient times.

So we were desperate to make some progress with the toileting but perhaps in our haste we set ourselves back.

How we toilet trained an autistic child
How we toilet trained our autistic child

Early Attempts

We first made early attempts to potty train our son when he was about 4 years old. It was the societal pressure added to us wanting to keep up with parents of other autistic children who had made the breakthrough.

In hindsight however it was too early and our son wasn’t ready. I don’t think at this age he had even grasped the idea of recognising when he needed a wee or a poo but that wasn’t the biggest problem.

For some reason our son had developed a phobia of sitting on the toilet. We had (like many parents before us) just plonked him on there on a couple of occasions to try and get him comfortable with the concept.

Well he hated it every time and struggled like we had placed him on burning coals, not a Disney toilet seat.

Seeing this built up anxiety we parked the toilet training for around two years before having a change of tactic and some extra support.

Toilet Training Our Autistic Son – Breakthrough

Our son goes to a school for children with special needs and from our first meeting with his teachers we gave toileting as our number one goal. HIs main teacher, with 30 years of experience in this field plotted a 3 month plan.

Firstly at school they went through a period of familiarisation using models, dolls and play dough (as you can guess what). For the first few weeks they just demonstrated to our boy what happens with the poo in the toilet. They then introduced him to their toilet at school and allowed him to get accustomed to it without any pressure.

We at home were engaging in similar tactics, we bought him a toy off Amazon which involved a bird who goes to the toilet singing a happy song. We decorated the bathroom and would invite him in there to play periodically, just to break down the anxiety.

Then after a few weeks of this process, the school and I decided to set a line in the sand of ‘after Christmas’ when he would start to use the toilet, this was around 6 weeks off.

We would regularly mention what would be happening ‘after Christmas’ and he just seemed to accept it. This is playing into the common autistic trait of liking order and understanding what is coming next.

Christmas success

When Christmas came around, my husband and I were slightly anxious that we were at make or break. We both felt if this didn’t work we were facing a life of nappies and our son not fitting into society.

We let Christmas day itself pass, but then from the 26th we stuck to the plan. I woke up that morning, explained that the nappy was coming off and that he was wearing ‘big boy pants’ from now on. Amazingly he just accepted this and we apprehensively started the day.

After breakfast we asked him if he felt like he needed the toilet, he shook his head, lunchtime he did similar. We feared that he would just try and hold in everything for the foreseeable. But then, out of nowhere he said “Mummy, need the toilet” quite sheepishly.

I accompanied him and casually helped him sit on the toilet. He wasn’t comfortable by any stretch, but there were no tears, no tantrums. Then all of a sudden I was blessed with this amazing sound of him doing a wee. I tried to keep my reaction as casual as possible but I could have cried.

Instead of over the top celebration I just explained to him that he was a big boy now and how proud I was, in reality I could have burst.

From then on there was no going back, poos followed and he became more and more comfortable with using the toilet.

To present day

I won’t suggest it has been all plain sailing from this point, there has been accidents (particularly at night) but I couldn’t be prouder of how well he has done.

My reason for writing this article is to try and help anyone who is reading it. I know how tough it can be and that at time it feels like an impossible task but you will get there. Remember, set a date in the future, perhaps write it on the calendar and casually remind your child as to the line in the sand.

In the interim make the bathroom as comfortable for them as possible and talk about toileting in a causal manner. I wish you every bit of luck and success.

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A collection of parents navigating our way around raising children with autism.

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