Ahh... Toilet training! That delightful challenge every parent has to face... and it can be pretty hard work at the best of times, even with healthy children. So imagine how tricky things can get when you add autism into the mix. But help is at hand, and we're going to look at a few tips and techniques you can try to make potty training easier and, hopefully, more successful.
1. Patience - Your Number 1 Virtue
Never lose sight of the fact that it's going to be a bit of a journey and it won't be straightforward. So don't get totally wound up and don't feel a failure. You might have to try more than one thing to find the right solution for your child. Every child is different and there's no one-size-fits-all quick, clean easy answer.
2. Is your Child Ready?
Just because you might have read somewhere that children are ready at the age of two, it doesn't mean that it's the magic age for your child. You have to look for signs of readiness, and these could show much later than average. For example, look for signs of your child:
being aware that they have a wet or dirty diaper/nappy - they could pull at it, or take it off, for instance
being able to imitate what you do - so you can effectively demonstrate sitting on the toilet
responding well to positive reinforcement - when you give your child something they like they're more likely to do the behaviour you're teaching them. (We call this 'loving bribery' in our house)
staying clean and dry most nights
3. When should you start?
If your child shows the readiness signs later than average children, don't worry - it's quite usual for autistic children. Just make sure that your child is happy to co-operate, can sit on a potty for a toilet for a short time, is able to dress and undress and recognises the clues that mean they need the bathroom.
4. Coping with Impaired Social Interaction
Problems understanding language and logic could mean that your child finds it difficult to understand what they're expected to do. Why should they pee or poop in the toilet or potty rather than their diaper or nappy? And they also may find it difficult to express what they need. Your challenge here is to recognise their cues and help them to tell you what they want.
5. Coping with Sensory Problems
Unusual reactions to sensory stimuli - for instance, smells temperature and sounds - are experienced by many autistic children, so watch how your child reacts in or near the bathroom. Do the different smells from cleaning liquids and perfumes in the room cause problems? Is the bathroom colder or hotter than other rooms and do they respond negatively to the change in temperature? Do the noisy pipes and flushing toilet upset them?
The key here is to remove as many of the upsetting obstacles as you can. That could mean putting lower wattage lights in the room, making sure your child wears socks or slippers on the tiled floor or explaining the noises and making them into a game.
6. Using Rewards
This is my family's 'Loving Bribery' system! By the way, it works a treat with all toddlers and most adults, so by all means use widely! First, identify something your child loves. This could be a food treat or special drink, or maybe a particular toy. Then make sure that everyone only gives your child this reward as part of toilet training. The aim is to associate the loved thing with a specific behaviour and so increase the likelihood of that behaviour happening.
7. Identify Your Child's Routine
By creating a time log of what your child does and when - and what the outcomes are - you will be able to build these times into your toilet training. So, over a week, write down times your child eats and drinks, wets, soils and is changed. Then when you know, for example, that your child wets 15 minutes after drinking you can make that part of the toilet training process.
8. Punishment is Outlawed!
Toilet accidents are not to be punished. It's far more useful to use them as opportunities to explain to your child why they should use the potty. Make sure that everyone who has contact with your child understand this and follows your system.
9. And Stress is Outlawed, Too!
There is absolutely no benefit to you or your child getting stressed and harassed over potty training. If your child feels pushed into a corner they won't co-operate and they'll turn against the very things you're trying to get them to use. Let them get used to the potty or toilet without expecting results. make as much of this into a game as you can. And DON'T get wound up yourself. You do need to be strong, cool and calm.
And finally... Remember what we've said throughout this article: the Potty Training Process IS going to take time... just give it the time it needs for your child to latch onto a new idea and a new skill. And stay positive!