Potty Training a Child with Autism: My Top Ten Tips

First, an update on how Wee Girl is doing. She hasn’t had an accident in at least two weeks. Not one, whether at home or out of the house. Today she went to a public toilet, and did a wee without any complaining (there might have been the mention of chocolate). So we are very, very proud of her, and starting to turn our minds to the possibility of taking her out of pajama pants at night. Well, one step at a time.

Our potty

The potty that worked for us

My tips (Or rather, what worked for us)

1. What worked for us may not work for you and your child. Every child is different, and adding autism into the mix only exacerbates that — on top of variation in personality, you’re also adding the enormous potential for variations in sensory profiles as well. Know your child, be willing to adapt and put in place strategies to help them succeed.

2. With Wee Girl, I think the main hurdle was getting her past that first wee on the potty. This involved a certain element of insistence on our part, and a lot of screaming on hers. Every time she tried to get her up, we (gently) sat her down again. Have I mentioned chocolate? Chocolate helps. Or whatever your child’s motivation is. The trick was doing this when she genuinely couldn’t hold it in any longer, and it did take insistence on our parts. Knowing your child comes in here — are they genuinely distressed or just angrily protesting? If the former, ease off and try again later. With Wee Girl I suspect there was an element of fear involved: she really didn’t want to wee in the potty, but once it was done and she realised it was what we wanted her to do she understood.

3. If you don’t think the child is ready in your gut, then maybe think about trusting your gut. I felt the pressure from my family to take Wee Girl out of nappies. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do at the time. I knew she wasn’t ready. Waiting made the whole process much easier, and when we were both ready to take the step, we took it. Just as importantly, are you ready? It’s nervewracking, and the fear of failure can be paralysing. If you don’t think the time is quite right, start gathering as much information as you can. Start prepping whatever you think you’ll need, such as reward sheets, sticker charts, etc. Use this time to prepare yourself and you’ll feel that much more prepared when the time comes. Be honest with yourself though: are you just stalling?

4. Let the child see you using the toilet as much as possible.

5. Accidents are a fact of life. They will happen, whether the child has special needs or not. Do what you need to do to protect the carpets and sofa, but they will happen, and it is vitally important not to blame the child or get angry (sometimes easier said than done). Chances are that your child could slip backwards as well. Wee Girl did for a bit. She seems to be over it now.

6. How independent is your child? In our case, we had to give Wee Girl the freedom to use the toilet on her own, as she wouldn’t ask to use it. When out and about, we try to make sure that she is aware of where the toilets are, so that if she needs to use them, she can take us there. (Still working on this one)

7. Develop a thick skin. In our experience, though, everyone has been very understanding when Wee Girl has had accidents while out and about. But there will always be judgemental arseholes in the world.

8. Pull ups seem like a great idea in theory, but they didn’t work for us. They ended up just replacing the nappy, didn’t fit as well, and worked out more expensive.

9. Timing is everything. We winged it, and got lucky, but if you’re having problems, keeping a detailed track of when your child needs to go could help avoid unnecessary stress and upset.

10. Most importantly, be kind. Not only to your child, but to yourself. Try not to stress or fret too much, or compare your child to others. It doesn’t achieve anything, and will only make things harder in the long run.

The Potty Journey

The Potty Journey

Finally, although we didn’t use it much in the end, I strongly recommend The Potty Journey, by Judith A. Coucouvanis. It’s a guide to toilet training children with special needs, and is a hugely positive and informative tool for you to use on your journey, including copies of all the charts you will need, advice on rewards, dealing with sensory issues, working towards night-time dryness and on and on. It’s absolutely packed with information. Well worth picking up, particularly if you’re feeling anxious and don’t know where to start.

Good luck,


About allpastmidnight

Hi, I'm Alison, I am a mid-thirties mum to two children, Little Man and Wee Girl. Wee Girl is pre-verbal and has autism, while Little Man is the sort of happy chatty little guy who gets into everything and sings at the top of his lungs β€” until the moment he makes eye contact with a stranger and he goes silent. I am cynical, sweary, and a bit disorganised, and I blog about parenting, ASD, food and just about anything else I can think of. Feel free to follow me on any of my social media. I can also be contacted by email at allpastmidnight [at] outlook [dot] com.
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2 Responses to Potty Training a Child with Autism: My Top Ten Tips

  1. Lisa Savage says:

    Great post Ali. We’re going to start next week, now the holidays are here. Fingers crossed. Let just see how it goes.

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