Weaning toddlers from their diaper is a stage that every parent and child had to undergo in their lives. At home, it would look like a battle between the younger and older generation, trying to restore peace, harmony, and foster independence in the little tots. If it’s challenging for most parents, how much more for parents and caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Unlike other youngsters, some kids with ASD are unable to communicate what they need. With the pandemic, it disrupts some routines and structure provided by schools. So, parents and caregivers had to be more resourceful and creative in helping your child toilet training. And in teaching new skills to children, patience and understanding are vital to put them at ease.

Here are three significant steps on potty training a child with autism

Pre-empting or introduction to toilet training

Children have different timelines in achieving milestones. Potty training is no exemption. There’s no absolute age that confirms toddlers can separate from their diapers at 18 months old. For some, it can even take them till they’re aged four. This does not mean that parents can’t do anything about this. Introducing new concepts to children such as potty training can start with reading the books or social stories for children with Autism. Creating awareness is the first step to open up their minds to a new skill. Especially for kids with special needs, exposure to this new activity will ease their apprehension in adding it to their usual routine.

Toilet training readiness

Parents can’t force toilet training to the toddlers. Especially during the pandemic, when they’re exposed to uncertainties that could trigger sudden outbursts and confusion. Thus, you have to follow the lead of the children and observe hints that say they are ready to jump right in. Here are some signs you should look for:

  • They appear interested in other people going to the bathroom and would try to copy their actions.
  • When their diapers are dry for an extended period.
  • The child poops or pees at a predictable schedule.
  • Tell you or give sign language that they are about to go or in the process of relieving themselves.
  • The child can pull up or down their pants.
  • Follow the actions of others and try to sit down and up their potty.

Basic toilet training practices

Children with special needs always learn with continuous practice with the guidance of their caretakers and parents. Adding the task in their usual routine would take some time. Here are some of the exercises you could start until the child becomes comfortable using the potty all by himself.

  1. Place a stand-alone potty chair or urinal in the playroom or bathroom to make them comfortable with the new fixture.
  2. After observing their usual schedule in moving their bowels or urinating, set these times to make them sit on the potty chair. You have to let the child get accustomed to the “act” of using the potty until they’re finally ready to use it.
  3. Teach them to sit on the potty on the designated hours. Gradually increase their potty time until they become at ease.
  4. If the child prefers going to the bathroom, set-up a potty chair on top of the full-sized toilet, and place a stepping stool to relax the muscles on their legs. Experts say, people generally move their bowels better when their feet are touching the ground.
  5. Use visual cues if your child is unable to communicate verbally. Social stories would be a great way to show the step by step procedure of going to the toilet from sitting on the toilet to looking after their hygiene (using toilet papers and washing their hands).
  6. Give rewards for every successful attempt to encourage repetition of action.

Teaching children to use a potty is not a walk in the park. Thus, you have to be ready at all times if they mess up. That’s all part of growing up, learning from each mistake. Stay calm all the time. Don’t be afraid to contact your pediatrician or clinical psychologist for assistance if things are getting out of hand.

Toilet training is a milestone that will bring your child with autism closer to becoming independent and self-sufficient. The support and guidance of everyone around him are crucial to his/her success. Since these children prefer predictability over spontaneous actions, you must let them take the lead until they’re ready to avoid meltdowns. As parents, you always have to remember that their milestones can be different from others. But with your love and support, each milestone will be an event you’ll cherish forever, no matter their age. Because each child is wired differently but beautifully.


Ava Wadaby is a contributing writer for Autism Parenting Magazine. She researches and writes about autism as she works to understand the challenges of her son who was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. She also regularly conducts activities with children in her neighborhood, focusing on their learning and development.