Childhood Milestones and Autism: Potty Training

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For a while now my wife and I have been potty training our son.  He's 4 now, and will be turning 5 in February.  You may think this is a bit late for a child, but potty training an autistic child is a bit different than potty training a neurotypical child. 

For instance, autistic children do not respond to "big boy pants" incentive as they do not recognize the social status big boy underwear can have, nor do they see the social advantage of performance for the pleasure of the parents.  They also don't see the point in changing the current routine that has been firmly engrained within their day.  Why learn something new when the status quo works fine for them?  Also there is the issue of sensory overload within a bathroom setting, with all the noises, echos, and new sensations that come with the bathroom. 

So potty training an autistic child can be very challenging.  That being said, it is not impossible, as my wife and I have found.  There are a few recommendations that we have experienced that I would pass on:

  1. Make It Fun:  Potty training should not be a time for anger, but for fun.  Currently my son loves to go to the potty, because we try to make it as fun as possible.  I sing the "potty song" for him using simple words and a simple melody.  Occasionally I'll change the melody to be different to keep his attention.  This helps him both recognize how long to stay on the potty, and make the experience fun. 

    This can also mean using incentives to use the toilet, such as a specific toy, a video game, or a puzzle they get to put together only while on the potty.  Find something that works for you. 
  2. Be Consistent:  Don't miss a beat when training.  Set up a schedule for your child, and keep to it.  If you take them to the potty every hour, then take them every hour.  Don't miss an hour because you are tired, or because your child seems too involved in their play.  Keep the schedule. 

    Not sure what the schedule should be?  Start with every hour and keep a record of when the child does go to the potty, which type (number 1 or number 2), and when it happens.  Does it show a particular pattern?  Is this pattern something you can follow?  You now have your schedule.
  3. Be Organized:  Outline the process for your child.  Make sure they know what the process is, and when each step is complete.  Task completion is very important to autistic children, and can reinforce the benefits of the task itself.  Break the task down into very specific portions: 
    -Stopping play
    -entering the bathroom
    -pulling down pants
    -pulling down underpants
    -sitting on toilet
    -urinating or defecating (as applicable)
    -wiping when complete (as applicable)
    -standing up
    -throwing away wipe
    -pulling up underpants
    -pulling up pants
    -washing hands
    -drying hands
    -returning to play

    Feel free to use images or picture communication to outline this process for your child.  
  4. Be Patient:  Some parents do not see success until their children are 8 years old or older, others may see success early on.  Don't judge your child or your parenting skills based on how soon they succeed.  Remember that success is measured by completion of a task.  The longer it takes, the more exciting it is when it has been completed! 
  5. DON'T GET MAD!  I can't stress this enough.  Never get angry with your child for not going to the potty, not recognizing when they need to go, or for going into the bathroom.  Sure, they may be playing in the sink or something when you don't want them to, but if you punish them for entering the room, they will recognize that.  The more angry you get, the longer potty training will take. 

Anyway, those are the suggestions that I would pass on.  They have helped us considerably, and I hope they will help anyone else out there.