Jun 02

Guest Blog – Potty Training a Special Needs Child

Name: Shanda
Blog: http://www.sahmto4boysplus.blogspot.ca/

Shanda is the first guest blogger on Potty Whiz!  With 4 boys, she has had a lot of potty training expertise, which she shares freely on a Babycenter forum.  In this post she shares some tips that might help other parents of special needs children.


Thank you for this opportunity to write. I was asked to be a guest writer about my journey potty training my autistic son, who also has ADHD, SPD (sensory processing disorder), and a communication disorder (among other diagnosis).

Potty training him was something I didn’t relish doing. Being autistic meant that his expressive language was more advanced than his receptive language – and he only had 5 words at the time. Sooo – you can imagine my reluctance to start. Not to mention, potty training my oldest was a stressful and horrible experience that I didn’t look forward to repeating.


My biggest weapon in potty training my son (I’ll refer to him as J) was chocolate!  He is very motivated in anything by chocolate. So I bought a Potty training M&Msbig 5 pound bag of plain M&Ms. Because of his ADHD, he is very easily distracted, and will not focus on any one thing. So this made it necessary to give very frequent reminders to him. I literally had him check his underwear every 3-5 minutes. It was exhausting, but by the end of day one, he was putting his hand on his underwear, then holding his hand out for the M&M. Many times when he did this, his underwear had slight wetness to it. I then took him to the toilet.  Because he had virtually no words, and even less comprehension, I used virtually no words in training him. Actions speak MUCH louder than words, and this true in this instance. My sentences to him were at most 3 words long. For example at a dry check I said, “dry?” then I put his hand on his underwear. If it was indeed dry I’d say, “Yay, dry!” then give him an M&M. If he was wet, I’d say, “no, wet…potty.” Then we ran to the toilet. With children with a speech delay, you want to model their sentences. Meaning if they only have one word sentences, keep yours to 1-2 word sentences.

Learning to Relax

At the toilet, for the first day or so, I had to hold him in place because he was always wanting to play with different things in the bathroom at such a rapid rate, he couldn’t hold still just to pee. Plus it takes a bit for children to learn how to relax and release. J wasn’t going to learn this by running around trying to play with anything he could. This resulted in him being unhappy, he didn’t want to sit still. I “forced” him to sit still. Once he released a tiny bit, I cheered and hugged him and gave him a few m&ms. Then I pointed at the toilet and said, “more?”. Luckily “more” was one word he did have. Like I said, chocolate is very motivating to him and giving more M&Ms for the release was the ultimate reward. He figured out real quick that it was better to get a small handful for putting his pee in the toilet, then just one for keeping his underwear dry. So by the end of the second day, he was running to the toilet to put his pee there. With children who can’t talk, it is more than enough to have them show what they want by their actions. He was “telling” me he had to go by running to the toilet.

Potty Training - iPadPoop Training

Poop training was a little harder just because there aren’t as many opportunities to learn. Again, actions speak louder than words. I took him with me when I pooped, and I overdramatized pushing. Then I pointed at it and said, “poop.” I had my husband do the same, and I also had him watch his older brother poop. Then every night, I had him sit on the toilet. It is common for children with ADHD and autism to prefer electronic devices for games. So I handed him my husband’s Nintendo DS, and he was content to sit for 20 minutes or more. I just went about getting his older and younger brothers ready for bed. Sometimes we were lucky and he’d poop, other times there was no success. If he produced, I gave him a bigger treat, like starburst or a sucker and his M&Ms, plus a sticker to put on his poop chart. His SPD meant that he had diarrhea more often than not. This meant for very messy accidents to clean, but also made it easier for him to poop, so I’m not sure if it SPD was a help or not, lol.

Night Training

Night training was pretty easy with him. He hated wetting the bed, and hated worse having to be awake while I changed his bedding out. After about 4 nights, he stopped wetting the bed and held it all night. I night trained him at the same time as day time. Once we switched to underwear we stayed with underwear. Otherwise he would have gotten mixed messages and it would have prolonged training.

The hardest part about potty training an ASD, ADHD, SPD child is schedule changes. None of these conditions allow for easy transitions in schedules. But combine all three, and it is downright Hell when his schedule is changed. So once he was potty trained, it took about a year for him to stop having accidents on the weekends. Just having Daddy home from work was enough to be considered a schedule change. When he had these accidents, I implemented the 10 practice runs. This was not meant as a punishment, but to build his muscle memory. His accidents occurred in two places, in the kitchen and at the top of the stairs. To this day, he runs the same path as our practice runs from these places to the bathroom! Even now, three years later, when he has a major disruption to his schedule (like when we went out of town last fall) he has accidents.

It is certainly not the easiest task potty training a special needs child, who can’t communicate, but it is doable. He was 28 months old when I started potty training him. He was pee trained in about 7 days, poop trained in 4 months, night trained in 4 nights. It takes being extremely vigilant, consistent and patient.

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