Autism can cause a host of issues when it comes to potty training and there are many reasons. Some of these issues stem from a general development delay, communication issues and anxieties that accompany toileting.
The Trouble with Communication
There may be some problems with communication where the child is unable to express that they need the potty, or do not understand the line of questions associated with the potty such as: “Do you need the bathroom?”
Even body language can be a problem with children who have Autism; you may notice that your child has no warning signs before an accident, such as playing with their underwear or jumping up and down.
With Applied Behavioral Analyses (ABA) techniques like Verbal behavior methods or PECs can teach a child to understand and communicate more efficiently so fewer accidents happen. Specifically a visual schedule or social story can help a child who has trouble understanding language; this is several pictures showing what will happen when a child goes potty, from sitting on the toilette, to wiping, to washing their hands.
Sensory Issues and Potty Training
Another common issue for Autistic children is the sensory side of using a potty or diapers. Sometimes the bathroom is colder than other rooms in the house, the floor could be cold, the potty hole could be too intimidating, the diaper could comfort, the child may need a stool to stabilize their feet and may detest the sound of the toilette flushing. These are all things that spike anxiety and make potty time unpleasant. Most of these things can be adjusted, explained, and worked through together.
Make Potty Time Fun Again
As with many classic ABA methods, re-enforcers encourage a child to enjoy their potty time. This could be rewarding them with stickers, candy, or a special toy every time they successfully use the potty. Some parents use a special toy area that the child has access to after they have successfully used the bathroom. You can set this up in the corner of the room or in the bathtub.
Transitioning to the Potty
Finally, children with Autism often have transitional problems. This too may impact your potty training in a way that ‘typically developing’ children may not have to deal with. Moving straight from an activity or location can be traumatic for a child with Autism and they may have accidents to try to avoid potty time all together. Giving plenty of warning and being consistent can help.
ABA therapists have strategies for every situation that occurs, and they have probably seen it all before, or at least heard about it. This will make potty training so much easier on the parent and guarantee a greater chance of success.