Toilet training

wooden doll sitting on a toilet

Toilet training is an important stage in every child’s life. For some, it will be a relatively painless process, and for others it could be a total nightmare! 

A child with autism may need a little more support and guidance, and they may be ready for this stage a little later in life, but the training steps are largely the same for any child. 

Here are some tips and tricks to support your child with toilet training!

How do I know if they are ready?

Children display certain signs when they are ready to progress from nappies to using the toilet. These will be likely be the same for a child with autism, but as previously mentioned, might be displayed when they are a little older.

Things to look out for:

  • Pausing play to use their nappy
  • Pulling at or touching a wet nappy
  • Telling you or signalling to you that they need to go, or have just gone in their nappy 
  • Staying drier for longer, or waking up from a dry nap 

How do I get started?

As with any task, it is a good idea to break the challenge down into smaller goals, and celebrate progress as you go. It is important to remember that you and your child are working together to reach this goal: communication is key. 

Here are some of our key steps to success with toilet training: 

1. Normal pants and fluids, fluids, fluids! 

When you get started, make sure that your child is wearing regular underpants. It is ok for them to wear training nappies overnight if you feel it would help, but make sure they are replaced with normal pants during the day. 

Keep you child’s bladder full by giving them regular fluids throughout the day, as much as they can drink. Don’t give them foods that are too salty as this will cause them to retain water. 

2. Regular toilet trips

Take the child to the bathroom every 30 minutes and stay on the potty for about 10 minutes (or until your child has done their business). 

If they don’t go, help them get dressed and let them leave the bathroom. If they do go, make sure you give reinforcement and praise immediately. Let them know what a good job they have done!

Check your child about every 10 minutes to see if they’re dry, show them how to check themselves too. If they are dry, give them plenty of positive reinforcement and praise!

If they’re not dry during one of these checks, follow the accident procedure. Take them to the bathroom straight away, prompt them to sit on the potty and then to stand and pull their wet pants back up. Immediately return to the spot where they had the accident and follow the routine again. Change them into dry clothing and encourage them to help clean the area where the accident happened. 

This might happen a lot as you begin your toilet training, don’t be disheartened – keep following the procedure!

3. Let them lead the way 

The first time your child self-initiates, stop your regular scheduled toilet trips! This will help them to become independent and recognise when they need to go themselves rather than relying on the schedule. 

Keep giving them plenty of fluids, you might see a spike in accidents to begin with but carry on with the accident procedure and this should stop. If they don’t initiate again for at least a week after the first time, then restart the regular scheduled toilet trips.

Once they have self-initiated 20 consecutive times, then you can stop giving them so many fluids. 

4. Positive reinforcement

You really want to make their effort worthwhile. Make their time on the potty or in the bathroom fun. What is it that your child loves the most? Oooh, it’s………….(whatever). Bring it on!

If you are struggling just to get them anywhere near the toilet then you will need to start with just building positive connections with the small room. Help them enjoy the time around the toilet. No pressure to sit down. Start with easy steps.

Once he/she is comfortable just being near the toilet then you can move onto the next level. Have their favourite toys ready, let them sit down just for 3 seconds and give them what they want. Slowly increase your demands and increase fun and enjoyable activities. It soon will be “time to bring out the big guns”, the most desired activities for having their first pee in the potty.

5. Leaving the house

When you are ready to try taking them out and about with their new skills, try following this procedure. 

Fill their bladder with plenty of fluids before you go out so that they will need to go as soon as you get there and head to the bathroom when you arrive. 

Accompany them in to the bathroom but don’t say anything, show them where the toilet is and see if they self-initiate. If they don’t, then help them but with minimal prompts!

A note on bowel training 

Do not use the accident procedure for these accidents! If your child has a fairly regular bowel routine then you may want to try to schedule them and have them sit on the toilet for a while at that time. 

Further support 

This is a quick overview of a potty training programme based on Potty Training Program by Foxx and Azrin, Toilet Training Persons with Developmental Disabilities if you need some further advice. Every child is different and this process might look a little different for each of them.

If you have concerns about your child’s toilet training, speak to your GP or paediatrician for advice. There may be a medical reason for a lack of response to potty training such as constipation or UTI’s. 

Get in touch 

If you have any further questions about behavioural therapy, or you want to know more about getting support for your organisation or child, please do not hesitate to get in touch!

With thanks to Betty for edits, questions and suggestions 🙂

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