Toilet training is a challenging and frustrating time for all parents, but even more so for parents of children with developmental delays, disabilities, or sensory issues.
At The Therapy Place, we are here to help you with the challenging task of toilet training your child with developmental delays.
As a parent of a child with developmental delays or autism, you already have more insight than anyone else on how your child responds in daily situations such as eating, sharing toys, and reaction to discipline. This kind of insight will be crucial in helping your child reach the next stage of development through potty training.
Every milestone that your child reaches is a reason to celebrate! Nothing is taken for granted. Toilet training is another one of these stages that you as a parent will work through.
Children with autism may sometimes reach their developmental milestones later than other children. It is not uncommon for these children to only achieve success with toilet training at the age of 4 or 5 years.
It is a challenge for parents of children with developmental delays to see other children reach milestones easily whereas their child struggles. Their child needs to be taught everything, from sitting on the potty or training seat to wanting to pee or poop and then wiping to obtain a clean result.
As a parent of children with special needs, it is recommended that you do not try to do this alone. It can be an emotional rollercoaster. Use the resources available in parent magazines, consult with therapists at The Therapy Place as well as parents who are in the same boat.
At The Therapy Place, we have researched potty training for children who need extra help, and we have useful tricks and hints to help parents at each stage of toilet training.
When Will My Child Be Ready for Toilet Training?
Boys and girls experience toilet training differently. Your child’s “readiness” to start toilet training may be later than children without challenges. There is no set age at which a child is ready for toilet training. It depends on their physical ability to control the bladder and bowel.
The physical aspect involved in toilet training involves your child knowing how to release their muscles, and the subsequent sensations of peeing or pooping. They might find this new sensation uncomfortable.
Signs That Your Child Is Ready For Potty Training
As a parent, there are certain signs you can look out for to know that your child is ready to start potty training. This can be things such as your child jumping up and down doing “the potty dance” or squirming to signal that they must go. They may point to their nappy to tell you that it is wet, or that there is poop in the nappy. Signs such as these tell you that your child is starting to become aware of their toilet habits, and they’re ready to start the transition.
Try to recognize the warning signs that they want to go to the toilet and react to them as soon as you see these signals and follow your routine to go to the toilet. Although it can seem daunting, try not to delay moving away from diapers when you see these signs. Move your child into underwear or pull-ups as soon as possible as soon as you see the signs.
In some cases, children with autism may not have any of these usual signs of needing to go to the toilet like crossing their legs or holding or pressing their groins. It may take a couple of extra steps to help your child communicate clearly.
A suggestion is that you ask them to communicate with you in a short sentence. Tell them to show you when they need to go to the toilet, or when they might have an accident.
What To Do When Your Child Has An Accident
Not only is the sensory issue of being wet a problem, but the feeling of failure can also become an issue. It’s important to let your child know that accidents are normal when potty training, whether there are developmental delays or not.
Let your child change and set a timer for half-hourly intervals for them to try again. Smile and praise your child when they make a pee or poop. We know that this process can be frustrating for you as a parent but reassure your child that we all make mistakes and that is how we learn.
Helpful Tips For Starting Toilet Training
At The Therapy Place, we’ve picked up several different tips and tricks to help with potty training. Some are tried and tried methods and others may work for one parent and not work for another. The important thing is to remain flexible and patient. The Therapy Place is here to help you make this transition, and answer any questions you may have!
Choosing The Training Potty
One neat trick is to start by introducing toilet training for children by letting them choose the color of the potty.
If you already have a potty from another sibling, let your child take the potty and put it in the bathroom. Let them get used to sitting on the potty and the training seat on top of the toilet. Ask your child “Is the potty good?” Do you like the toilet seat more?”
Use Visual Cues
Remember to use the visual cues and stick them on the bathroom wall. This will alleviate stress and resistance to toileting.
It gives a clear sign to your child that as soon as your child is finished in the bathroom your child can go back to the activity or television show or play with their toys.
Use Simplified Langauge
Children with developmental delays, autism, and ADHD, as well as children with language impairment, require repetition of information or for the instruction to be simplified for it to be understood and processed. For example, they may not understand “Let’s go to the bathroom,” or “Do you want to Poop?”. Instead, a simplified version would be to say, “come poo in the potty”.
Here are some more examples of simplified language to use at different steps of toilet training:
- It’s time to go use the potty.
- Take your nappy or training pants off
- Talk about the nappy and training let
- Tell your child to sit on the potty or training seat to feel which one is more comfortable.
- Do you want to sit on the potty or the seat?
- Talk about each stage of the process so that it is not something to be frightened about.
- Ask if they are finished
- Teach them to wipe their bottom
- Wash their hands
Your child may have difficulty as they feel the difference between using a diaper and using the toilet. Always remember to talk to your child with a developmental delay about what is happening as the poop is coming out. It may seem normal for us, but this is brand new for them! Talk about the process, explain what’s happening, and be patient with them.
Do the same as you proceed with each stage. Do not rush your child, give them time to sit and wait for them to pee or poop. Talk about what they are doing and reassure them that this is. a new job to do, just like learning to walk.
Bring A Toy To The Toilet
Another idea is to let your child take a toy with them to the bathroom to distract them from how long it takes to make the poop. Some parents let them take a teddy to the toilet and tell the teddy what they are doing.
They’re Not Missing Out
Often children will resist going to the toilet as they don’t want to miss out on playing.
This is especially the case with children with autism as they do not like their routine being disturbed.
Let them know that they will go back to play as soon as they are finished!
Social Stories for Kids About Toilet Training
Social Stories for kids about toileting that focus on all the steps involved in the process, can be of great value and fun. Sequence stories and visual cues help to teach your child vocabulary. These kinds of stories can be found online, and can often be customized to meet your child’s needs! This story from Jessica Bander is a great resource for potty training: “First use the toilet, and then get your reward.”
Routine Plays an Important Part in Achieving Success in Toilet Training
Children with autism or developmental delays rely heavily on routines. When starting toilet training, it’s important to have house rules and maintain them even while training. This allows your child to know what is expected of them in other areas, such as cleaning up toys and washing hands before eating.
In the same way, you can instill a routine for toilet training. This routine can look a lot like what has worked for your child in other areas. Use what has worked for you up until now with other activities. Try using picture cues and a timer to schedule half-hour trips to the bathroom initially. You can have a sticker chart in the bathroom or offer rewards such as cookies.
Reward your child for every small beginning, even if it is a few drops of urine. It’s important to reward the child immediately after the event so that they associate the reward with toilet training, just as you would do for the other routines you’ve set up.
It may be difficult, but try not to focus on your child’s mistakes, rather on what they can do. Praise them to acknowledge their frustration when they make mistakes.
A sensory processing disorder involves the child’s hypersensitivity to the five senses. Below are some examples of how these senses might be triggered when potty training with your child.
The feel of the seat on their bottom might be cold, or it might be hard. The toilet paper might be scratchy to use.
The loud sound of the toilet flushing.
How their poop or urine looks.
The smell of their own poo or other smells associated with the bathroom.
Some aspects may be unpleasant for them. The pressure of a full bladder or the cramping of an impending bowel movement may feel uncomfortable. Having to take off pants and undies and sit without them on. They may feel insecure with the change of wearing a diaper compared to the toilet.
Although taste is not directly related to the above senses for toilet training, many “picky eaters” have difficulty with toilet training. This often just means that they struggle with a lot of their senses, and the bathroom is just another area.
You may already be aware of the sensory issues that your child with Autism or ADHD has in other areas before you start potty training. They may have any one or more of these sensory aversions to going to the toilet. You will know if your child has sensory issues, and you most likely will have dealt with them before.
Wiping Is the Final Stage in Toilet Training
The final stage of toilet training your child is teaching them how to wipe properly. This can be difficult for children with sensory issues, but luckily, there are many teachers and therapists across the web who have created some helpful ways to teach this.
The most important stage of wiping is to teach your child “how to reach around.” You can hold their hand and demonstrate the action while they’re on the toilet. Verbal cues can be: “finish the job.” Continue to use rewards to encourage them to finish wiping. It’s also important to monitor their wiping and prompt them to take enough time and use enough physical pressure to remove the poo from their bums.
This Video Will Help Your Kid Learn How To Wipe Themselves
This teacher has a brilliant idea and shared a video on Twitter to help share the process. We’re not sure where the video originated, but this teacher should be given all the awards for saving us the struggle…and giving us a laugh.
Although we think this is a great teachable moment, we noticed the balloons are positioned higher than their actual bum would be. So, before you try this at home, move them down a little.
You don’t want your kid to learn to just wipe the top of their bum.
Help Is Always at Hand
It’s not easy to stay positive sometimes, so share your experiences with other mothers or therapists at The Therapy Place. Our therapists empathize with you regarding the difficulties of potty training.
If you sense what is causing your child’s fears, be open and honest. Talk about the senses and changes that they may be feeling. Parent support groups are great to brainstorm words to use during toilet training rather than negative words or scolding or pleading.
Parents often ask how they must react when their child becomes oppositional to potty training.
A Psychologist or Behavioral therapist may also assist in finding solutions to your individual challenges, such as co-operation, response to rewards that worked before, or uneasiness with the process of toileting. Parents are a vital part of a successful therapy process and must sit on sessions to learn from the experience.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you are not having success with the toilet training of your child. We are here to help you. Our Occupational Therapists will help you with the sensory issues, while our Speech Therapists will help you with the level of language instruction and visual symbols to use for the stages in toilet training.
We hope that these ideas and tips will be useful in the process of toilet training your child with developmental delays, autism or sensory processing issues. You can also consult your pediatrician for assistance at any of the stages in the toilet training process. This assistance can be invaluable as the pediatrician knows your child as a whole little person!
Remember that our dedicated team of therapists is always available to discuss any issues you may be having with toilet training or any other milestone events.
References – APA 7
Cocchiola, M. A., Jr, Martino, G. M., Dwyer, L. J., & Demezzo, K. (2012). Toilet training children with autism and developmental delays: an effective program for school settings. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 5(2), 60–64. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03391824
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