Potty Time

Thirteen Ways to Get Your Child Using the Toilet!

Potty time can be very intimidating and scary for many children, and especially for children with autism.  There are many sensory components in the bathroom experience.  The toilet seat may be cold and/or feel very hard, sounds may echo off the walls, the toilet flushing may be loud and overwhelming, your child’s depth perception may be off and he may be afraid of falling in the toilet, or he may just not like sitting down.

There are some important factors to keep in mind regarding potty time, including if your child is ready for toilet training or if he has a possible medical challenge (be sure to talk with your doctor, if you are concerned). He may not be bothered if his pants are wet or soiled, which makes the process more difficult. However, even if you think that your child isn’t ready yet, there is no harm with exposing him to the bathroom experience.

Here are thirteen suggestions to encourage your child to start sitting on the toilet and attempt to master one of life’s most important skills.

  1. Music: If your child likes music, play music for your him while he is sitting on the potty.  Make a CD or playlist of some of his favorite songs just for use in the bathroom.
  2. Use a timer: If it is difficult getting your child to sit on the toilet, bring him into the bathroom even if he doesn’t have to go.  Encourage him to sit on the potty until the timer goes off.  Continue to increase the amount of time every few visits to the bathroom. Start with 15 seconds, then 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 2 minutes, and so on.
  3. Rewards: Reward your child for every successful step of the process. If it is difficult for him to even step into the bathroom for potty time, reward him for getting two feet in the door.  If he is usually terrified of sitting on the potty, and he does so for 10 seconds, make a huge deal out of it and reward him!
  4. Fidget Toys: Keep a container of fidget toys next to the toilet. Allow your child to hold a toy while he is sitting on the potty. Cause and effect toys also work great for potty time.
  5. Schedule: Put potty time on his schedule before a desired activity. By scheduling potty time, you are letting him know that using the toilet is not an option. Place the bathroom symbol on his schedule at least once an hour.
  6. Task Strip: Use a task strip for the bathroom, so your child can see the steps involved.  The task strip can include symbols or pictures to represent pulling down pants and underwear, sitting on the toilet, wiping, flushing the toilet, pulling up pants and underwear, and washing his hands. Click here to download some useful task strips in the Visual Tool Kit.
  7. Counting: While your child is urinating in the toilet, practice counting with him for as long as he is peeing.  Counting will help him fully release his bladder and make sure that he doesn’t get up too soon.
  8. Water: Have a cup of lukewarm water ready for potty time. Let your child pour the water into the toilet.  The sound and sensory experience of pouring water into the toilet can help him make the connection to peeing in the potty. If the water is lukewarm, it won’t startle him in case some splashes onto his body.
  9. Model:  Let your child model a sibling or parent. This may be awkward, but remember that your child is a visual learner, and you cannot expect him to just “know” where his pee and poop go.
  10. Real Toilet –  Use a REAL toilet, and not the plastic potty training toilets. You can always use the potty seat adapter on top of your toilet seat. This will make for a much easier transition when your child is big enough to sit on the regular toilet seat. Since your child is most likely a visual learner, it’s important to show him and have him experience the real potty.
  11. Targets: For boys, place a piece of cereal, or another flushable object, in the water. Teach your child to aim at the target. If your child gets distracted easily, it increases the chances of his urine going everywhere.  By giving him a target, you are setting him up for success; plus it’s fun!
  12. Wiping: Once your child uses the toilet, allow him to be involved in the wiping process.  If you are worried that he may get poop everywhere, wipe his bottom first.  Then allow him to wipe.  It is important to give your child opportunities that promote self-confidence and independence.
  13. Stay calm: Take a deep breath before taking your child to the bathroom. He feeds off your energy, so it’s important to stay calm.  Create a potty mantra, if needed. “Potty time is so much fun.  My son loves potty time.  I love potty time too!”  Keep smiling, and keep trying!

Teaching your child to use the toilet is a life skill that will help him (and YOU) for the rest of his life. Children with autism learn by repetition. It is going to take work, patience, and lots of practice, but once your child is successful, you will be so glad you persevered.

Is your child potty trained? If so, feel free to share some tips and tricks with us!

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Jennifer Lingle, M.Ed.

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1 Comment
  • Brenda calton
    Posted at 12:33h, 18 May Reply

    My neice is not potty trained and she is ten. She changes her own diaper and wipes. She squats where she is and goes and changes herself. She is not interested in the bath room and she is nonverbal. I am not sure how to get her to understand going potty in the toliet. She has limited communication skills.

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