Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Secrets to Potty Training Your Child With Autism

There are many things about parenting that are enjoyable, such as holding your infant in your arms for the first time or seeing your child take her first step. On the other hand there are some events attached to parenting that we just don't look forward to as much and for many parents toilet training their child is one of them, especially if your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Potty training a child on the Autism spectrum often requires a parent to leap over some additional hurdles when approaching the task. As challenging as it is to get any child to use the toilet independently the sensory system of a child with Autism does not respond in the typical way. Teaching a child to master this daily living skill can be extremely daunting but regardless of who your child is and what sensory sensitivities they may have, success can be achieved with a carefully crafted and customized approach.

All children, similar to their adult counterparts, have their own little quirks and peculiarities about how they like things done or how certain objects feel to them. Does - "It's too hot." "It's too cold." or "It's too hard." "It's too soft." - sound familiar to you? If you think you are stuck in the middle of the story of Goldilocks and The Three Bears you may not be too far off the mark.

Many children grumble about food and drink temperatures, the feeling of a surface or the texture of clothing. How many of us adults are partial to those scratchy tags they have in the necks of clothing? Parents often deal with such grievances on a daily basis as they care for their kids, but children with Autism are extremely prone to sensory overload.

The sights, sounds, smells and even the clothing your child wears can be determining factors for success or failure when it comes to potty training. Paying attention to sensory details such as the lighting in the bathroom, the sound of the toilet flushing and the texture of the toilet paper may seem a bit extreme but will pay off in the long run. Making your bathroom a sensory friendly place for your child is not only a very wise thing to do, it is one of your secrets to success.

If you feel you and your child are ready to conquer the task of learning to use the toilet here are some other important things to consider:

- Play detective. The mission here is for you to gather detailed information regarding your child's sensory likes and dislikes, what irritates them and what soothes them, what is likely to work for them and what isn't, weeks before you begin the training process. Most parents will know these things intuitively and could rattle of a short list rather quickly but when asked to mindfully compile such an inventory they are often amazed by the length this list suddenly expands to.

- Create a plan. A key ingredient for attacking any type of adventure or challenge is to develop a customized plan. One does not attend a job interview, give a party or take a trip without taking the time to do their homework if they want to achieve their desired objective. The detailed information you collected about your child will help you address each sensory issue that can and will influence the outcome. Potty training may not compare to events such as these but it does warrant the same consideration and effort if a parent wants their child to conquer and maintain independence in this self-care activity.

- Make it routine. Do not ignore the fact that most children with Autism love a predictable schedule, so take advantage of this and use it to your benefit. Creating a structured routine around potty training and sticking to it will certainly enhance your success rate. Any child who thrives on predictability and routine will blossom when the environment is structured and customized to their needs, regardless of the new knowledge they need to acquire.

Parents, who keep these tactics in mind as they guide their own little 'Goldilocks' to master this essential self-care skill, will not only experience less stress but everyone involved will enjoy a journey that, as Goldilocks says, "Ahhh, this feels just right".

Connie Hammer, MSW, parent educator, consultant and coach, guides parents of young children recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder to uncover abilities and change possibilities. Check out her toilet training program for children with Autism, From Bathroom Battles to Bathroom Bliss - Potty Training 101 at or visit her website for more information.

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