My Autistic Child Refuses to Poop in the toilet! What to do?

Welcome back to Best Case Parenting. Today, we are giving advice on a problem some parents of autistic children have. Their child refuses to use the toilet to go to the toilet. This can be a complex problem, but we hope to at least offer a starting point for parents having this issue.

Children with autism are exceptional gifts who may need a bit of time to learn the main concepts of childhood. They don’t always see things from the same point of view as us. Therefore, as a parent, you need to understand how to treat, teach, and train them to do certain activities such as potty training. Things about potty training that we may see as obvious or common sense, will more than likely be foreign concepts to many autistic children at the start.

Helping an autistic child with potty training is not easy. You need patience and a lot of hard work to successfully train your child to use the toilet. But with the right knowledge and knowing the mistakes to avoid, you will be on your way to potty training success. Potty training is a vital step for any child, whether they are autistic or not. We want to make it as smooth a process as possible.

This article will not be going over the actual process of potty training. That information is freely available all over the internet. You can go checkout our review of a popular potty training product by Carol Cline if you want.

How do you potty train a child with developmental delays?

Instead, this article will be focusing on specific issues and tips related to going through any potty training process with an autistic child. The process is the same, but there are some unique traits of autistic children that you need to consider.

There are several challenges that children with autism encounter during potty training. Thus, to ensure that the process is successful, you need to understand the difficulties they might encounter and how you can resolve them. Some of the potty training challenges that kids with autism encounter include:

  • Some do not like sitting for long in the potty or toilet.
  • They may fear to flush the toilet.
  • Some love to play with the toilet paper.
  • They might not want to be cleaned after using the potty.
  • Boys may have problems standing while urinating.

With these problems in mind, you need to be flexible, more patient and have a lot of determination.

Always try to think positive thoughts, and don’t let yourself get down. No matter what happens! Whenever you need motivation, imagine a visual picture of your child using the toilet well. 

This may be a tough journey, but it is one that is vital for both parent and child.

What are the main signs showing your autistic child is ready to be potty trained?

One of the key questions a lot of parents will have is, how to tell when my child may be ready to start potty training? Getting this right is a vital factor that will increase the likelihood of success.

There are several signs that might show your autistic child is ready to be potty trained. But most signs are not always obvious. Pay close attention to your child and their awareness of their “poop process”. Once they are aware, they are probably ready.

Some of the common signs include:

  • When he or she tries to get a clean diaper or takes you to (or shows an interest in) the bathroom.
  • When you notice he or she is bothered by his or her wetness and tries to take off the wet diaper.
  • When he or she mimics associated actions,such as sitting on the toilet.

How to prepare yourself for a successful potty training process

Potty training your children, whether autistic or not is essential. It helps them to stay clean and learn the benefits of maintaining their hygiene. But to increase the possibility of successful training, you need to be prepared. Think of this as laying the foundation! A solid base to build on!

Here are some tips for preparing to potty train your autistic child.

1. Start by monitoring and making a note of their toileting routine. You would be surprised how much a young child’s bodily functions follow the same routine! Check on your child after every 20 to 30 minutes to see whether he or she is dry, wet or dirty. You need to monitor the child for a week every day before you start potty training. It may seem like a tedious task, but will help you find out good time to attempt your potty training in the future.

2. Prepare the bathroom and other areas where you will conduct the training. It is important to remove any distractions and have the required equipment and accessories. Many autistic children can be easily distracted, so we want to try and keep this to a minimum.

3. Make sure the potty training routine is clear in your head. What are you going to ask your child to do? What resources will you need? A lot of autistic children like to know the full process they will go through, and when it will end. I would recommend making a simple visual cue to go over with your child. This would be a series of pictures that show the process to your child. Go over the full process at the beginning, and refer back to the visual cue at the end of each step. This is great for both leading up to and during the potty training. 

How do you potty train a nonverbal autistic child?

4. Do not discourage your child. Try and give positive feedback on any achievements (no matter how small). You can also use incentives, reinforcements, and rewards to encourage him or her. Besides, you need to be calm with your child. This will give your child the time and space they need to succeed at potty training!

5.Pick a good time to begin your training. The summer holidays can be the best time to start training. Even though some parents start potty training when the child is four or five years, the good option is when the child turns three. Ideally, you will need a block of time where you have the ability to be flexible if problems arise.

6. Use the power of media! ​In this day and age, media can act as a great introduction to potty training for your child. This way, they will know what to expect when the actual potty training starts.

The first step to consider is the use of stories as a way to introduce your child to the idea of potty training. Luckily, there are many fun and engaging stories on this subject you can use. Using stories allows you to bring up the subject of potty training indirectly. Often, this helps the child to get to know the process without feeling under pressure.

My personal favourite is below. I like this particular book because it actually shows the process of using a potty in a fun and simple way. Click on the book cover to go take a look at the book on Amazon.

As well as books, there are some great smart phone applications you could use as an introduction to potty training.

I quite like the potty training social story app available from Touch Autism. They show an accurate representation of the potty process, with the added bonus of interactive elements.

I am sure your child will love both of these options, and hopefully will encourage them to take part in the whole potty training process!

What to remember when potty training an autistic child

Potty training for a child with autism is not easy. There are some key factors you should remember, over and above the regular ones other parents may follow.

1. Have positive reinforcement. Another great step that is vital during potty training is the use of positive reinforcements and rewards. Ensure you reward him or her for the accomplishments (no matter how small). Rewards will ensure he or she sustains interest in the training. . Any added motivation goes a long way in the training process. And for every successful step, make sure you have a reward for it. When you encourage him or her through incentives, you boost the self-confidence and increase interest in the practice.

2. Encourage independence. As with many daily routines for children, it is important to encourage independence. Let your child try some steps by him or herself. But ensure you have trained him or her well and are familiar with the steps (so as to reduce the chance of disappointment or negative feelings from your child). Though independence is the main goal, do not push the kid too much to do things on his or her own. He or she should be comfortable and ready to be independent. You do not want him or her to feel stressed or to lose interest in the training. If there are other routines involved with the potty training (such as taking out the potty itself), you can also encourage your child to do them. Praise your child, saying things like “whose a big boy now” when they show Independence.

3. Keep things simple and break them down. Potty training is a difficult thing for children with autism. At the start, they may be confused about the process or why they are being asked to do it. Therefore, keep everything simple for him or her to understand clearly. As stated earlier, make sure to have visual cues at hand to help guide your child through the process. Make sure to celebrate when your child successfully agrees to get through a step, no matter how small it may seem. For example, when they agree to enter into the bathroom for the first time and when he or she sits on the potty. These are all key milestones that should be celebrated together.

4. Do not shame or punish. There are going to be many mistakes and messes. Hence, be prepared for everything. There are some mistakes that will make you feel upset. Do not shame or punish your child. Separate your child from the condition they have. It is not their fault they were born autistic and find this process hard. Love your child and pledge to help them with the associated mannerisms of autism! Pushing or yelling at your child who is learning to use the potty cannot help. So, if you want to help him or her, avoid punishing him or her even when he forgets or does something wrong in the bathroom. Always remain calm. If you find yourself starting to get angry or frustrated, abort the process and take a time out.

5. Embrace the poop! This sounds weird, right?? But, it’s true. If you want to have a successful potty training process, do not fear the smear. Some children will want to play with their poop, some will want to see how they are pooping, or use the poop to paint. An autistic child might look at their poop in a totally different way to what we might expect. So, be prepared for such behaviors and be able to handle them. Fortunately, there are several solutions to such behaviors. Some of the steps you can take include:

• Offer other activities your child can embrace such as playing with clay.

• Ensure the toilet paper is not harsh on them. The use of wet wipes might be a good idea.

• Ensure your child is not behaving that way due to pain. Hence, you can consult a doctor.

• Ensure the kid understands the process of wiping by teaching them properly.

6. Relate accessories to your child’s interests. This may not always be possible, but when shopping or designing the potty “chair”, know your child’s favorite things such as cartoon characters, toys, and other items. If you can some how include some of these things in the potty or its related accessories design, your child would feel more motivated to use them. Better still, would be finding a book or video that is related to potty training, whilst also including a subject matter that interests your child.

7. Teach your kid to ask for the potty. Make sure to teach your child the process they need to do to let you know they want the potty. Remember, you want your child to be independent and be able to use the potty on his or her own. Some of the terms you can use are “Want Potty Now” “Toilet Now” and other simple phrases. The use of such terms will boost confidence and help the child complete the task properly. If you have used books or other media to demonstrate the potty training process, you can ask your child to repeat phrases used there.

Make sure not to…..

When potty training an autistic child, many parents may find this a great challenge. Hence, parents can make mistakes when teaching the children how to get started, often through the stress of the whole process. Even though some mistakes are minor, they can delay the entire process. Therefore, when teaching your child how to start using the potty be mindful of the following mistakes.

1. Expect too much in too little time – potty training a child with autism can take months or years. This is because there are several steps involved and kids learn at their own pace. Therefore, do not expect your child to perform like your friend’s kid. Give him or her the time they need to learn the steps properly and always work slowly on his or her improvements. We don’t want our children to feel stress or pressure from this process!

2. Start too early or too late – beginning something late may delay the process and starting it too early can frustrate your child. Thus always strike a balance when it comes to potty training. We gave you some basic advice in this article regarding when to start. If you are still worried, seek advice from parents groups specifically related to autism. By starting at the right age and taking the potty training seriously, your little boy or girl will stand the best chance of success!! If you feel you have started too early, simply abandon your plans and wait.

3.Set too little time for the training and preparation – I have seen some parents of autistic children take potty training very lightly (either that or they realise how hard it will be and are putting it off). It is important to note that you need to be prepared, informed and give your child time to complete the training. If you can, train the kid by yourself. Keep in mind that autistic children may feel uncomfortable with strangers or when in a new environment. By engaging with them and spending time together, you can make the potty training easier and more successful. Autistic kids might forget the simple steps previously taught. Hence, you should be prepared to spend a good time with them even when they make mistakes.

4. Train at unsuitable times – Timing is an essential element of successful potty training for any child. Therefore, try to think more about potty timing and not just potty training. This is because timing will ensure the process becomes easier and more comfortable for the child. Even though most parents do not see it as a factor, timing is the most important factor during potty training. For example, do not start the training when an essential event is about to happen. Your child cannot focus on the training.

5. Punishing your child during the training – when it comes to potty training, punishment or use of harsh words should be avoided. Remember that an autistic kid learns most things in a different way to other children. So, whether you are frustrated or not, do not punish your child during the training. There will be accidents, disappointments, and embarrassments. But this should not make you punish the child. If the kid notices that you are short-tempered, he or she may end with negative feelings about the whole process. Hence, do not hurt, scare or punish them. Think of your child and their autism as two totally separate entities.

The Bottom-line

Training an autistic child to use the potty can be a challenging process. However, with the right information, it can be done. All you need is to be patient, determined, and well-prepared. Also, you should be proactive in looking for new tools, materials, and strategies to make the process successful. Make sure to reach out to organisations and parent groups that are dedicated to autism. That way, you are in a place to get the best advice.

You can find one such group over at Autism Parenting Magazine, I made a review of their excellent magazine and related community on parenting autistic children HERE.

Always remember that potty training might be a lengthy process. Some kids take months while others take years to fully understand how to use the potty or the toilet. Thus, be very patient and be prepared for the inevitable accidents. In some cases, the child might not be familiar with toilet sensations while others may have issues communicating the need to go to the bathroom. Hence, determination and persistence are the keys for autism and potty training. And by following the above tips, you can be in an excellent place to succeed.

If you are a parent of an autistic child (and have gone through potty training with them), we would love to hear about any tips or advice you may have in the comments section below.

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