Toilet Training Children with Special Needs

When toilet training children, this is probably one area of parenthood many don't look forward to. There's no one size fits all approach. They definitely don't come with a manual. And when you are toilet training children with special needs, that ads a little bit more – generally, it's a longer progress, and more patience is required. But it definitely is achievable.

Here are some tips to make toilet training autistic and special needs children that little bit easier. Or at least give you some guidance as to where to start.

How to toilet train an autistic child or special needs child

Remember, autistic and children with additional needs are a little slower at picking up new skills, so prepare mentally that this will take longer than neurotypical children.

For special needs and autistic children, it can be about getting toilet training into their regular routine. And breaking their "normal routine" to introduce these new components can be the first challenge.

How challenging toilet training can depend on how verbal or non-verbal your child is, how you approach communicating this new aspect into their daily routine, and how they can communicate when they need to go to the toilet.

If your child's communication is quite good, they will understand when you ask them if they need to go to the toilet. At the same time, a non-verbal child may struggle with this aspect.

How do you know when your child is ready to start toilet training?

A good first sign is whether your child can pull their pants up and down to make going to the toilet a little bit easier.

Also, how does your child react to:

  • Hearing the toilet flush
  • Sitting on the toilet

For some kids, even neurotypical kids sitting on the toilet can be confronting and overwhelming. And if that's the case, there are toilet ladders that fit over the toilet to make it smaller with steps and a handle to hold onto, or a potty might be an option your child prefers them better. And there's certainly an array of different types of potties these days. Even ones that make flushing noises could be an excellent way to introduce that noise.

Other things to consider are:

  • Do they know the difference between being wet and dry?
  • Can they stay dry for a few hours at a time?

What to expect when toilet training a child with special needs

Quite often, kids with aditional needs don't show the "usual" signs or body cues that they need to go to the toilet. For example, a neurotypical child may:

  • Cross their legs
  • Grab themselves
  • Do the "potty dance."

But our special neurodivergent kids quite often don't give us an indicator that they need to go until it's too late.

Toilet training steps to make the process easier

1. Routine

Make toilet training a part of their routine as much as possible.

2. Tell them, don't ask.

Don't ask your child if they want to go to the toilet or do they need to. Tell them it's time for a toilet trip.

And utilise the exact words, signs or pictures each time. This way, your child understands what is happening.

3. Start small and increase the number and length of your toilet trips

Start with "x" amount of toilet trips each day for "x" period and then build up from that.

Use iPads or books to keep them interested if you need to. But be careful they don't get too distracted and don't lose focus on what they're there to do. If they do, you could be sitting on the toilet floor for a long while.

4. Make a toilet training visual schedule

Pictures can be a fabulous way for special needs children to learn their schedules and what's expected of them.

Canva has fabulous picture resources, or we have a tremendous magnetic toilet training reward chart if you don't want or have the time to get creative yourself. If your child isn't into charts, then a lucky dip-style bag could work when they get to choose something. Or your child might like their favourite treat or activity. Find what works for your child.  

Tips for dealing with everyday challenges during toilet training

Toilet training regression

Unfortunately, regression is something that will probably happen. It doesn't apply to every child, but it is pretty common. Particularly for our gorgeous neurodiverse children.

Dealing with new toilets

If your child is toilet trained before starting school, then the toilets at school will be different and new to them and could cause an issue.

Introducing social stories and the like and visiting public toilets when you're out and about could be an excellent way to get them used to new toilet environments. And if you start introducing public restrooms from an early age, too, it can begin normalising that trip to the toilet. Therefore, hopefully making it a positive experience for all.

Have lots of accidents?

Keep your own chart by noting down when your child goes to the toilet and see if you can get a pattern from it. This will help your "toilet trips" to become more successful, particularly if your child is non-verbal.

Recommended products and tools that can help make the process easier

Below are products that may help make your life easier while toilet training your special needs child:

What should you do if potty or toilet training proves too difficult or overwhelming for your child?"

You know what I always say if this happens, and it's the same if you find it too overwhelming. Have a break. You can always come back to it and try again.

Remember to reach out to your child's paediatrician and Occupational Therapist if they have one too. They can be a wealth of information when you have a good one.

We're a neurodiverse family, so we can relate to what you're going through. So, see us at our Altona North oasis or reach out online if you're not lucky enough to be local to us. And if you need a break, why not visit us in-store?

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