Disability: Potty Training a Special Needs Child

I am just a mom of a couple of special needs children. I am not a doctor nor a specialist. When it came time to potty train my unique kids, I could not find any articles that talked about the issues I dealt with. This article is my advice, parent to parents, of the specific challenges that we overcame is potty training so that you feel equipped with ideas to help your own children.

You would think therapist who work with families would help with such an essential self help skill. My personal experience was that they would point out to me that I need to do potty training over and over again with out ever telling me how. It was frustrating.

So then I searched the internet and saw tons of people doing these three day boot amps with their toddlers. I don’t recommend this. It just caused us stress, tears, and a lot of confusion. The process I am going to describe is very slow, but low stress and more suited to children with developmental delays, communication problems, and sensory issues.

First of all, you can begin this process when you feel life you child is able to understand what they are learning to do and is able to stay dry for an hour or more. Most children this happens after they turn two. With special needs kids you may have to wait until they are close to four or even older. A normal preschool with not be happy with your delay, but it honestly can’t be helped. A doctor can write a note and the school will need to make accommodations according to the law (Americans with disabilities Act). Still, dealing with schools over this is a pain which caused me to homeschool early on.

So, the first step is that the child must understand the names of the liquid and solid coming out of him. We called it pee and poo. They need a name for the restroom or toilet as well. They need to be able to communicate their need to go and respond to your telling them that it is potty time. With my deaf son we used both the verbal words and a sign-language sign. The reason for both was that he would throw his cochlear implants off when he didn’t want to do something. Instead of searching for his hearing device at that moment, we would just switch to sign-language. Using a sign may also be useful for non-verbal children with various language or developmental struggles. Visuals and pictures were not useful to use except at home.

The next step is for the child to understand what is expected of them in potty training. My oldest son didn’t like potty books but loved Elmo’s Potty Time Movie. My youngest son liked books. Some children do well with visual stories. Older children my do well with a lame Nate’s visual list of steps. Whatever you choose, review this with your child for a week or more before potty training begins.

Now that you child somewhat understands the concept of potty usage. Let them help you pick out underwear and a potty chair/situation. Some children, such as my oldest, will refuse to give any input at all. That’s fine. Also, you may have some trial and error with your choice as you get into the process. That’s fine too. Sensory issues pop up and random fears can develop. Don’t stress out about if possible. I personally like training underwear because they are thicker, but they are expensive. You may need to find something taggless. we have to experiment with fabric types for my oldest. Then with the potty chair, my youngest loved one that that had flashing lights when you pushed the flush sounding button (it didn’t actually flush). My oldest didn’t like potty chairs. We used a cushion seat insert for the toilet at fist and then ended up removing that to teach him by having him sit backwards (facing the tank). This was funny to him, but more stabilizing and less messy (the stayed in the toilet better).

Now that you have what you need to begin, start with having your child sit on the toilet once a day. We did it before bath time in the evening. Just praise them for sitting there (You look like such a big boy!). If they pee or poo, praise as much as they can handle without getting overwhelmed. If they don’t use it, no problem. The point is just to get them used to the sensory and emotional process of using the potty. Some children hate the feelings of peeing and pooping and will withhold it. Using a no stress step can help desensitize them. Another thing that may help some children is to have a towel over their lap as they sit so the process doesn’t feel cold.

Once your child feels comfortable using the potty once a day, you can add another time, like fist thing in the morning. Some children might move on quickly, but other may take months to get used to the potty at all. Don’t start using underwear until your child is going multiple times a day.

When you get to multiple times a day, you can begin to use a timer and underwear. Some people will set the timer for 30 minutes between potty times at first. I would pair this with a sticker chart to reward them for just cooperating at sitting so many times a day. There many be a lot of accidents at first. I have tried to do this with pull-ups, but I found that they just didn’t care if they were wet in a pull-up. Do what works for you, though. The goal is for them to stay dry and hopefully ack to go when they need to. You can feel free to lengthen hen your timer as they master staying dry. If this step gets too stressful, go back to the previous step.

For some children, master staying dry is the biggest step and after that, they mostly take care of themselves. For some children, like those on the autistic spectrum, there are additional steps in getting them do do this whole process without you there. I will continue on with those steps.

So now your child is staying dry and asking to go to the bathroom. Start to verbally tell them the steps as you help them doing it. For an older child with a visual list of steps on the wall, point to each step before you help them do it. An example of the steps might be: 1) Close the door 2) pull down pants 3) sit on toilet 4) Pee and Poo 5) get eight squares of toilet paper 6) wipe 7) repeat getting toilet paper and wiping until clean 8) flush toilet 9) stand up and pull up pants 10) wash hands 11) dry hands 12) leave restroom

Begin to have them do more of the step on their own, one task at a time until they master that one task. If you were helping them pull down their pants, have them begin to do that on their own for a few days before then introducing having them wipe on their own.

Once they are doing all the steps on their own with you telling them, Mix up having them tell you a couple of steps and/or leaving the bathroom during one or more steps. Increase the rate and length of your absences as your child can handle it. Some children will just sit there waiting for your return. You may have to introduce a sticker chart or reward chart to get them to do certain steps alone.

Some children go through the whole process of potty training very fast with some steps being complEtel y unnecessary. Some children, though, may take years to complete this. Try not to stress out about it too much. In the end, we just want our children to become independent and that is all that matters.

I hope this post helps you. I don’t address special equipment because I have no experience with that. Also, you will most likely have to adjust my suggestions to fit your specific child. That’s fine! This post is just to help parents think though the steps in a way that fits special needs instead of feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of this essential skill. If you have questions, feel free to put them in the comments below of email me. My email address is on the bottom of my “About” page.