Autism Spectrum Disorder presents many daily challenges for children who are developing a routine while functioning with ASD. Similarly, when it comes to household chores, grooming habits, or personal hygiene such as potty training, it is often best if a parent or caretaker is the person teaching that skill.
In terms of potty training or a toilet routine, it can be difficult to show your child the proper social and hygienic behaviors on a normal schedule – but that’s ok. For kids with autism, many behavioral skills are integrated at their own pace with the help of an ABA framework and their support group, so we’re going to go over some of the best ways to teach potty training for children with autism.
Communication – specifically about behaviors in the moment – are often difficult for a child with ASD to convey. However, there are some tell-tale signs that a child with autism is ready for toilet training, such as:
While there is no one-size-fits all potty training system for a child with autism, you should be able to develop a sense of where they are by talking with their therapists, pediatrician, and assessing them yourself.
When the time comes to begin a potty training course for your child with autism, there are going to be some habits for you and anyone working with them to implement. We recommend the following:
Consistency and routine play significant roles in the comfort level of children with autism, as well as allow them to learn best.
If you create a routine that has different time interval goals, actions, and rewards, it will allow you to break down the full behavior into micro-components, and teach your child step-by-step. Then, once this routine is established, you can have your child participate in specific timing intervals and sections of the routine for more acute practice.
The simpler the means of communication, the better for children with autism.
If you are able to use visual prompts, mimic behaviors yourself, and make verbal cues short, it should help your child. Often, we recommend using a verbal cue and a short verbal direction so that you can build multiple prompts in potty training.
Accidents are bound to happen on the way to fully potty training any child with autism. Instead of admonishing, discussing, or punishing accidents, remind them that the better behavior is using the restroom correctly. Then, have them practice and go through the potty routine a few times. Offer social praise for their compliance. Have them go through the motions to clean up the mess as well. You will have to follow it up for thoroughness – but don’t let them see you!
This can be a worrisome step for many parents, but it is a very positive move for your child. True clothing will be much more uncomfortable than diapers if an accident is to happen, and will help them associate discomfort with an action they shouldn’t do. Similarly, we are looking to encourage the full positive behavior, and that includes wearing proper clothing; when you decide to start potty training, take the leap and commit to big boy/girl undies! Have them pick out their favorite characters to really get their buy-in. Buy extras, too – a few pairs may end up in the garbage.
Especially as you start toilet training, you want the simple actions and defined rewards to dictate behaviors. Conditioning positive outcomes that are reinforced will allow you to create the baseline for more complex communication later.
Make sure to reserve a specific type of reward solely for toilet training – including a small reward for sitting on the toilet for a specific amount of time and then a larger one for completing the task properly. It will motivate them to learn this specific skill based on the desire for scarce rewards. Similarly, reward quickly and with a reference to your visual supports and verbal cues.
Ultimately, building better communication is what a lot of behavioral training is all about for children with autism. Because there might be limited verbal ability or difficulty in signaling early on, the goal should be to improve the efficiency of your child’s ways to signal that they need to go to the bathroom.
Look for patterns that coincide with both accidents and successful trips. Try to create days structured around the positives so that you can also reinforce those actions. You should be able to see patterns emerge of a behavioral flow leading to your child needing to pee, for example. Finally, make sure that the rewards are consistent to each action; it will give your child a better chance of making a connection between the action and the reward.
While it is often thought of as a private affair, potty training is still an important behavioral skill that requires the same attention as any other while helping a child with autism. Similarly, it is often a great deal of work and you might require more bandwidth or a different approach. As such, professional help is often the best complement to your at-home efforts, and there might need to be clinical or in-home training from an outside perspective.
Every child is different, but we recommend working potty training into your ABA framework sooner than later; it’s better to be early or over-helpful than to develop challenges in potty training patterns for such an important component of day-to-day life.
At Ally Pediatric Therapy, we have decades of experience assisting families through any and all behavioral challenges for children with autism. Working with professionals to help with potty training can be so beneficial for your family and is something we specialize in. We’d love to help make it less stressful for you.
If you are looking to take the next step towards helping your child with autism, please reach out today – we’d love to help make a difference for you and your family.