Let me start by saying there are literally THOUSANDS of books, essays, literature reviews, TV shows, magazines and smoke signals that have tried to figure out the BEST way to potty train a child with autism. The interweb is SCATTERED with potty-training suggestions. Some say the same thing, others have widely different perspectives that can be considered odd or different. The bottom line is: as a parent you have to choose the BEST option for your family. What I’m going to do here is make a list of the most POPULAR strategies for potty-training with small caveats and what I like to call #pottyhacks. They are like #lifehacks, but help me do a lot LESS laundry!

Here’s my pre-potty training pep talk: Don’t listen to what the typical kids are doing, it’s comparing apples and oranges. What could take a typical kid a few weeks, might take you months. So remember this FABULOUS instagram post before proceeding:

So moving on. Here’s the bottom line when it comes to #pottyhacks. First, pick a time when you have 1-2 days without any distractions to get going. I like a long weekend. I’ve had MANY families I’ve worked with plan ahead to do potty-training. They have it scheduled in their calendars to use Memorial Day Weekend or Labor Day Weekend to start the process. I like to do it during the school year because often times the school has the child on a potty schedule also, so it will remain consistent:

1. Before you decide to tackle the beast, take a few days BEFORE the weekend to be a detective. Carry a notebook around or use the “notes” section of your phone. Make a note every time your child takes a potty. Differentiate between urinating (U) or bowel movement (BM). So much of getting ready for this is understanding the pattern yourself, before teaching your child to understand the pattern.

2. Remember that you want to associate POSITIVE things with going to the bathroom. So get ready with some of your kiddo’s favorite things: the ipad, favorite toys, songs, music, etc. I personally would avoid giving the child food while on the toilet. Well, because ew.. But that’s just me, I know plenty of parents who give out jelly beans after a good poop. AFTER is fine, but not while on the toilet. And the first time they do it on the toilet, you give the prize ON THE TOILET. Later you can fade it to after the deed is done.
**A lot of suggestions out there mention praise/reinforcement at the END of the tutorial. I always love to talk about this first. This can MAKE or BREAK your potty-training experience.

3. On the day you are ready to begin, no more diapers! Take them off and have regular underwear on your soon-to-be big kid. Aim to take your child to the toilet throughout the day to do what I call “toilet-sitting”. Toilet-sitting, is the simple act of sitting on the toilet with pants down, for no apparent reason whatsoever. I like to start with 2 hour intervals, set a timer if you can’t remember. First thing when they wake up, have them sit on the toilet for 1-2 minutes. Set a timer based on where your child is at. If they can only do 5 seconds, GREAT. If 30 seconds, perfect. Start with their bare minimum and work your way up. The goal is to catch them when they need to go, and have them do it in the toilet on accident.

4. If your child ends up urinating or having a bowel movement on the toilet during one of these sitting exercises, that’s when you go crazy with excitement. Cheering if they like praise! Silence is they don’t like loud noises! Give them the iPad, give them their favorite toy. It should be a party if they go on the toilet. Wipe for them, have them put their pants back on, and then back to business as usual until the next 2 hours and they have to sit again for a few seconds/minutes. Keep doing this every few hours.

5. If the child urinates or has a bowel movement in their pants in between the intervals. ITS OKAY! It will happen. I PROMISE you it will happen. If they do, immediately take them to the toilet and have them sit on the toilet for a few seconds. This will at least start the pairing process with the bowel movement or urination and the toilet. Also, if there is some “extra” coming out, you can be sure to praise them if it comes out in the toilet. Do NOT reprimand them for the accident. Remember we want potty-time to be POSITIVE! BUT, it’s important for your child to learn the consequence of eliminating in their diaper, which means they will need to clean by putting their waste into the toilet or trash. This will help them understand that their waste goes in the toilet/trash.

6. The one thing you will see wall-papered.. nay, toilet-papered all over the web is the use of the Visual Schedule. The visual schedule is something that I personally think is overused for kids on the spectrum in other situations, but I would say that the ONE scenario that I think it’s CANNOT hurt is for potty-training. There are SO many schedules available on the internet and there are some for the whole day, and others just for the bathroom time. Here are a few options:

(from Pinterest, don’t know the original author)

I also found this kit on Etsy (who knew!) while searching for other images. I haven’t tried it myself, but looks pretty inexpensive and good quality!

(from Etsy)

Other considerations that I did not go into a lot of detail about:

  • If you have been trying without any avail, PLEASE consult a medical professional. If your child isn’t eliminating on a regular schedule, PLEASE consult a medical professional. If your child hasn’t pooped in 4 days, PLEASE consult a medical professional. I can’t stress this enough.
  • Help your kiddo out: this might be a good time for easy on/off clothing. E.g. sweats, no zippers/buttons. Easy-peasy clothing.
  • Don’t give up. This will take a while. Keep at it.
  • Stay positive (easier said than done, I know).

Do you have any #pottyhacks we may have missed? Let us know!

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