Potty Training Children Who Have Special Needs

When I was a preschool teacher {back before I had children of my own} I couldn’t understand how children older than three were not potty trained yet. I blamed the parents and assumed they were just too lazy to potty train their kids. Here I am years later ashamed that I ever thought that and realizing how wrong I was in judging them. My oldest wasn’t potty trained until he was almost four and my youngest is three and a half and not even close to being potty trained. And that saying about karma? Yeah, I think it’s true because I feel the judgment when people realize my child in pull-ups is in preschool and no longer a toddler.

You see, what I didn’t understand all those years ago was that each child was different and though I had this list of things children “should” be doing by a certain age, it was just a loose guideline. Some children develop skills quicker and some children take longer to develop skills and potty-training is no exception to that rule.

The first time I tried to potty train Jacob he was about two. I had this idea that a sticker chart and a lot of encouragement along with making him sit on the toilet every 30 minutes were the keys to potty training success. After about a week I realized that he wasn’t “getting it” and I threw in the towel. Not only was he not realizing he had to go, but he wasn’t even realizing that he was wet or had a dirty diaper. After this first failed potty training attempt Jacob started wearing pull-ups. I figured this would be the easiest way for him to go to the bathroom if he all of a sudden felt he was starting to pee in his pants and could get to the bathroom.

Months later I tried potty-training him again. He still wasn’t ready and I decided at that point to wait until he was realizing he had to go before trying again. When that milestone came around it was a little bit before his fourth birthday. He started telling me when he had to go and we’d run to the bathroom. Sometimes he’d make it to the toilet and sometimes he’d just be so busy with what he was doing that he’d wait until the last minute and end up having an accident. The first weeks were full of constant reminders and multiple accidents but a month or so later he was fully potty trained and he moved on to underwear.

I really wish it hadn’t taken so long to potty-train Jacob but this was my first kid and I had no clue what I was doing {not that I have any clue now but at least I have a bit of experience}. My first attempts at potty-training were before I suspected any special needs and I think if I would have known then that he had Sensory Processing Disorder I would have waited until I thought he was ready and saved both of us a lot of time and frustration.

Lucas I think is going to be a little tougher to potty train. Lucas has SPD like Jacob but, along with having that, he also has Autism Spectrum Disorder and significant language delays. After the long journey with Jacob I decided not to push it with Lucas. At three and a half he doesn’t notice when he is wet yet and only occasionally seems to even notice if he has a poopy diaper. Children with Autism often are delayed in potty training and having SPD and language delays means that things are even more difficult because he doesn’t process senses the same as a “typical” child and can’t communicate his needs as well verbally. With Lucas I feel more confident in my parenting and accept the fact that people may judge me but I don’t care because I now know that I am doing what is right for my child and for my family instead of trying to pressure him to fit.

Here are some tips I have for potty-training children with Sensory Processing Disorder and/or Autism {seeing as every child is different these may not all work but I hope some might give you ideas of what might work for your child}:

1) Wait until they are ready. Your child needs to realize that they have have soiled themselves before they are even ready to start potty training.

2) Explain the process of using the toilet to the child. Explain step by step before, during and after. Many young children with Special Needs, and many without as well, need to know what is coming up so they can mentally prepare themselves for the task. Reading books about potty training may be beneficial, too. Here’s a list of ten books that you can read with your potty training child.

3) Provide visuals. You can type in “visual aid for potty training a child with Autism” in a Google search but here’s a direct link to one I think is a good one that you can print out and use in your home. Some children are visual learners and pictures will help greatly so they can see each step of the process.

4) Develop a way for them to notify you that they have to go potty. Maybe use sign language or have them point if they are non-verbal. A picture card may work well also so that they can give you the card when they need to go. For children who are semi-verbal maybe they can learn one word that they can use to tell you that they need to go to the bathroom.

5) Encourage your child and celebrate every victory. Even if they start peeing on the floor and you grab them and sit them on the toilet and they finish the rest in the actual toilet bowl…that’s a victory! Even if they go in their pants but then alert you that they are wet… that’s a victory. They aren’t going to be potty trained over night but instead, there are going to be a lot of small victories on the road to potty-training success.

6) Some children need motivation to get tasks done. Each child is different and therefore their motivator will be different. For some it may be extra time with a favorite toy or electronic, like my boys and their tablets or trains. For others one m&m or a sticker if they go in the potty may work. One thing I have done in the past is put old McDonald Happy Meal toys into a basket and if they went on the potty they could play with one. Since these toys had been put away it was like they got a brand new toy and I didn’t have to go out and spend extra money on them.

7) Use pull-ups that are easy to get on and off. We like the Huggies Pull-Ups because they feature easy open sides. Since he still wears a pull-up to school these help because then the teachers don’t have to take off his shoes and pants to change him.

8) Consider using a special kind of training pant that lets the child feel when they have peed. Huggies has a type of pull-ups called Cool Alert that feel cool when wet. I think this one in particular would be great for children with SPD or Autism because they can feel when they are wet with these more so than with an ordinary pull-up.

9) Make it fun! The Huggies Pull-Ups feature a favorite character, Lightning McQueen from Disney Pixar’s Cars movie, which makes wearing them exciting. They love reading books in the bathroom. We also sing random songs I’ve made up, which Lucas really likes because he loves music.

10) Understand and accept that your child is going to have accidents. With potty-training, like any learning process, it is going to take time. Your child will most likely have accidents and that’s okay. As frustrating as it can be for parents, try not to get frustrated with them because that will just make the process harder for everyone involved.

I hope the above steps have helped give you some ideas as you try to potty-train your child with Special Needs. The Huggies Pull-Ups website has some other tips and if you have any tips I’d love to hear them in the comments :)

If you are wanting to use pull-ups, Walmart has Huggies on rollback right now in stores and online for $8.97 a package! They also have Night Time Pull-Ups that are extra absorbent.

(Disclosure: I am a member of the Collective Bias®  Social Fabric® Community.  This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias™ and Huggies but all thoughts are my own. #HuggiesWalmart #CBias #SocialFabric )

Comments

  1. This is such an excellent post. I can completely relate to you when you talk about your ideas about potty training and lazy parents, until you had your own kids! Isn’t that the way it always is? :) I never imagined my son would be so very difficult to potty train. We tried it all, and ultimately, he just wasn’t ready until he was ready. It didn’t take long once he was completely ready, and I wish I had saved us all that stress!

  2. I did not know that one of your son’s has SPD and the other is autistic. Your one special Mama to have two special sons! My son Matthew is now 5 years old, and he too has SPD. He has outgrown some issues because he’s been in some great schools with some great teachers. Some things have just transformed. He used to be afraid of fans, dogs, bugs, elevators, certain lights, and other things. Now he loves dogs and has no issues with elevators. He still can hear the hum of certain lights and it gets to him, like it gets to me. Some things with him will always remain, like how to calm him down when he’s really upset and hurt.

    I shared this on my FB pages.

  3. ha ha I love the diaper on his head shot. Potty training is hard for ALL children it seems!!
    xoxo

  4. Great tips! Best of luck with the potty training!

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