Potty Training: Special Needs Living


toilet child potty trainingPotty training a child can be a very frustrating experience for many parents. Trust me, I have an almost 3.5 year old who still refuses to tell us when he has to go but will go on the toilet if we happen to time it right and put him on the potty at the precise moment. In other words, it's going slowly.

This week in Special Needs Living, aurorabunny, mom to 3.5-year old Brody, who has autism, discusses the extra difficulties that come along with potty training a child with special needs, especially one with sensory issues.

Potty Training Children with Special Needs

by aurorabunny

For some reason, when someone finds out that my son has autism, they usually ask me one of two questions. The first question is often, "Is he verbal?" which makes sense to me. Whenever I meet another parent of a child with autism, that is often one of the first things that I want to ask too. The second question is always the one that gets me: "Is he potty trained?" Huh? The only thing I can figure is that potty training is a fairly hot topic amongst parents of the toddler set and they obviously think I should be included in the toilet talk circle just as much as any other mom would be. Except potty training is different for my son, and for most other children with special needs. And I'm not really sure how long my exasperated smile and "We're working on it!" is going to hold up.

We ARE working on potty training, at least a little bit. Brody doesn't mind sitting on his potty seat for a short amount of time every day, at least long enough to unravel the entire roll of toilet paper. We just haven't made a whole lot of progress, and I know that Brody's sensory issues are probably our biggest roadblock at the moment.

Even when he was an infant, we were constantly having to do "smell checks" to see if Brody had a poopy diaper or if he was wet, and things are the same way even now at 3 and a half years old. The kid has never batted an eye at sitting in soaking wet or massively poopy pants, and I know those are his sensory issues at play. I genuinely believe that he doesn't feel the physical change or if he does, it is at a very decreased level compared to what a neurotypical child would feel.   Multiple friends and relatives have commented on their surprise about Brody not being potty trained yet as he is very smart. What they don't seem to understand is that "smart" has nothing to do with it: how do you teach a child to use the potty when they aren't even able to recognize their body's urge to go to the bathroom?

That's pretty much where we're stuck. I purchased a book last month about potty training children with autism and obviously it hasn't been a whole lot of help. The approach advised by the book basically required more attention and detail than a 40 hour per week job (and even came out and said just that) and included keeping forms and logs that would probably land you in the doctor's office with carpal tunnel in about a week flat. It might very well work, but since I don't have the luxury of stopping every single thing in my life for upwards of three months to potty train my child, I guess I'll never know. 

Well-meaning friends have suggested what they call the "Potty Party" approach, where apparently you and your child just move into the bathroom for the weekend and drink lots of fluids and sit on the toilet. That would land us in full blown meltdown mode in most likely less than half an hour. So I guess for now we'll just keep sitting on the potty for three-second intervals every day and hope that something clicks. In the meantime, I'd more than welcome any tips or tricks from you awesome moms on how to potty train a child with special needs!

Any magical tips or tricks to share on potty training a special needs child?


Previous Special Needs Living posts from aurorabunny:

Saying Yes to Discipline: Special Needs Living

Why Prenatal Testing for Autism Is Problematic: Special Needs Living

Marriage & Divorce: Special Needs Living

Alternative Treatments for Autism: Special Needs Living

autism, developmental delays, potty training


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

jms124 jms124

My son isn't special needs, just stubborn.  He will be 4 in April and we started potty training a year ago.  He was doing well but once I went from working to staying home it totally regressed.

We basically told him that we wanted him to be potty trained, but the decision was up to him.  I told him he was in charge of he pee and poop, no one else could tell it what to do.  I blogged about it here if you want to read more.

I don't know if this will help with Brody, but maybe it will help another mom out there with a stubborn kid.

toria... toriandgrace

My daughter is four and not even close to potty trained. It's so frustrating because I don't know how much is her not caring and how much she's not able to control her muscles because of her low tone.

lmgar... lmgariano

My son is autistic. I just gave up on the idea of what other people think he "should" be doing. He wasn't potty trained until he was about five, but he was ready. He had two accidents ever. I didn't stress out, he only stressed out about it the first time because it was something new, and definately not part of his routine. He went through a naked phase and would bring me a diaper when he wanted to go. That let me know that he knew how to hold it, and he knew when he had to go. So I kept him out of the diaper one day and refused to put him in it. We battled about it for between an hour or two, he had a little dribble on the floor and I immediately put him on the potty. I praised him heavily and kissed him and hugged him. Went from then on. Only two accidents because dad didn't understand that he needed to go to the potty. (He's verbal, but especially back then, sometimes he was really hard to understand.)

I have always been of the mindset that kids will let you know when they are ready. I don't keep to any timetable. Out of four kids, the only one that has been heavily "potty trained", (by that I mean a considerable effort on the part of adults.) was my youngest by MIL and grandMIL when my husband and I were out of town. She has had the most accidents out of all my children by a large margin.

patsf... patsfan013

Aurorabunny - was the book, "The Potty Journey?"  I have it and agree with you!!  Too much work!!  LOL!

My ASD and NT kids (twins) are 2 1/2.  I tried to start potty training the NT kid.  He had been asking to wear underwear and sit on the toilet, which he did happily for up to 1/2 hour while we read books.  He CAN hold his urine and he knows what needs to be done.  But after 2 days of underwear only he said to me, "Mommy, no sit on the toilet anymore.  Not ready."  How can you argue with that?  So, he has now started to ask to wear underwear again, but refuses to sit on the toilet.  On the other hand, my ASD son at one point (just a couple of weeks ago, actually) wouldn't even sit on the toilet.  He would kick and cry and arch his back if I tried to get him on it.  Now, he'll sit as I count to 100 (and he tries to count with me)!!  He hasn't peed or pooped on the toilet yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.  My trick?  He LOVES to flush the toilet and wash his hands.  So, that's the deal.  You want to flush the toilet?  You sit on the potty to 100.  I know, pretty soon I'll probably have to tell him, "You want to flush?  You need to pee first." 

Heath... Heathercurlz

My 5 1/2 yr. old son was just dx'd with Aspergers and he still comes home from school with wet pants. They had to change his clothes twice yesterday, and I even started trying to potty train by 21/2. It's frustrating, annoying, and feels like it's never going to end. He doesn't like to wipe his own bottom either, and I had to go to the school once after he spent a whole half hour in there because everyone's hands were tied and they couldn't help him. Do you have any tips on what I could do? He won't ever tell me when he has to go and even if I take precautions, he still might have wet pants 5 mins. later. I was also told he has low muscle tone, which might be making problems worse. At this point, most ppl just want to blame me for this, they seriously don't have a clue; but I guess blaming me makes them feel like a more accomplished parent.

Kryst... Krystal.Ingalls

I wish I had some magical advice I could give.  People ask me if Brandon is potty trained, too and he isn't even 2 1/2 yet.  He has his little potty...and a little seat for the big potty.  But, he screams his head off if we sit him on either.  So, it's going to take awhile.  I figure if I can get h im to just sit on it for a few seconds I'll count it as progress.  =)

auror... aurorabunny

LOL Yes the book was "The Potty Journey".  The further into I read I was like "Umm...SERIOUSLY?"  It says all the forms are to be passed around and filled out my anyone who cares for the child throughout the day...if I asked Brody's teachers to do that much paperwork they wouldn't have time to do therapy with the kids and they would probably tell me to go to hell.

dezandry dezandry

I have a 3 yr old with mild autism and speech/developmental delays. I haven't begun to even start to potty train but I am looking up techniques to help. I found this video on you tube, its called how to potty train a child with autism. It is pretty interesting, basically she makes a book with photos that show the step by step process of using the toliet, its just an idea that might help as well as others.


nonmember avatar redheadmomma

I have an 8 year old with autism who's successfully potty trained. It went pretty well, I think mainly because I let myself off the hook for potty training according to any schedule other than his, because there was so much other stuff to worry about, you know? Maybe it's that I didn't mind diapers, but I waited until he was 4.5 (trained in #1) and then waited an extra year (potty trained in #2). I always potty trained in the summer (stripped the kids and put the potty outside, worked great), got a good carpet cleaning machine and relaxed about it (and practiced patience for anyone who was asking me how potty training was going!)q. For #2, that was met with a lot more resistance; how he finally broke through that barrier is that I put a pull up on him with a hole in it, and sat him down on the toilet. He appreciated the security that the pullup gave him, and he prevailed (I also bribed him with a really sweet Thomas bridge...). Good luck to all you moms!! You will prevail too! :) p.s. My son has sensory issues & low-tone as well.

nonmember avatar Candogoods

Our son has cp and is 10.  We thought he would never be trained untl we went to the Potty training for all children seminar given by The Potty People and sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association.  Their method is working for my son.  Basically, make their favorite thing a reward for whatever you want them to do and don't give it unless that thing is done.  Also, if they go in their underwear then you have to have an accident routine, cleaning it up.  We use time out since cleaning it up is difficult with a child with cp.

1-10 of 22 comments 123 Last