Potty-training tips that worked on my kids, anyway…

Since I have a “normal,” or neurotypical (NT) child and a child  with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) here’s a few things that I found worked when it came to potty training.

I honestly don’t remember how I trained my NT child to use the toilet instead of her diaper, because she trained pretty easily. Well, she got an M&M or Skittle every time she used the potty, so that must have been what did it – she was very motivated by treats then. However, while she got the hang of it quickly, as I started tapering off the treats, her interest in using the toilet waned. She would rather continue playing then take time out to use the toilet. It took me a year or so to figure out a way to get her motivated to use the toilet all of the time, without needing to give her treats constantly. Since she wasn’t making it to the bathroom because she felt that wasted her playtime, every time she had an accident, I would make her sit at the kitchen table for 10 minutes. I would remind her that had she just taken time to use the toilet she would already be back playing. This was especially effective because at the time I was watching a friend’s two girls who were my daughter’s age, so it just killed her to sit in the kitchen and miss out on what they were doing.

Treats meant absolutely nothing to my ASD child. He didn’t mind sitting in wet sweatpants. He wasn’t interested in being a big boy or trying to be like daddy. Nothing that was supposed to work on motivating a child worked on him. I tried the whole, fill him with fluids and then get him to the potty in time. He has a strong bladder, so he would normally not go through many diapers in a day. But he would empty himself immediately before I could get him to the bathroom every time. I was at wits end.

So I went to a class on potty-training children on the autism spectrum. There I learned that I needed to do the exact opposite of what is recommended for NT children. The instructor said two things I remember clearly. She said that she had never met a child on the spectrum that she could not potty train. And that it isn’t a pleasant experience for the child or the parent, initially. But it works and everyone ends up ok in the end. Basically, you put the kid on the toilet, fill them up with liquids, then physically hold them on the toilet until they can no longer hold their bladder.

If my son, who was over 3 at the time, would’ve known how to swear, he would’ve been reaming me out. He was screaming and crying and looking at me like I was the worst human to ever walk the face of the earth. I was crying and praying as I kneeled on the bathroom floor straddling the toilet, hugging him and holding him in place. After several minutes he finally could hold it in no longer. So I let him up and matter-of-factly told him that he had done a great job (he doesn’t appreciate grandiose displays of congratulations) and we went to watch some TV with his sister.

I called my mom to let her know the big news, so she asked to talk to my son. Oddly enough, he always loved talking to his grandma on the phone – strange behavior for an ASD person. So he was chatting away with her about what toys he had been playing with that day. Then she brought up that she had heard that he had put a pee in the potty. His response: “Good-bye, Grandma.”

But he had only one accident after that. So the pain was definitely worth the gain!

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Heather Holbrook

I found out that I have Autism upon having a son with the same "disorder." Ironically, I was voted, "Most Likely to Succeed," by my high school classmates. But had I been born now, instead of 40+ years ago, I would have been considered a different sort of special. This site was started to encourage other Autistics and the people who love them .

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