A creative and fun approach to toilet training specifically for kiddos with developmental delays:
Let’s face it, toilet training is not for the faint of heart. Children’s development is not always predictable with each child on their own path. Some children show signs as early as 18-months, while others may not be ready until age 3. Starting too early may actually delay training. Children with developmental delays, (such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), speech language disorders, intellectual disability (ID), etc.) may take longer to master skills needed for day-to-day independence. Toilet training can be a milestone that takes children with delays more time to accomplish. The transition from wearing diapers to using the toilet can be a difficult one, so we developed this guide (in collaboration with many resources) to help parents and caregivers with ideas on how to support toilet training their child. Please remember that every child is unique and not all techniques or ideas will work for everyone. Don’t give up and always consult your pediatrician with your concerns.
How do you know your child is ready to be toilet trained? (Note: not all children will show these signs)
- They are mobile and can stand up and down and pull their pants up and down. • You may notice your child’s behavior is different when their diapers are wet or soiled. They may verbally or physically show discomfort. This can be exhibited in many different ways such as walking differently, trying to take their diapers off independently, or not wanting to sit down. • Your child may show an interest in the bathroom/toilet by asking you to take them to the bathroom or they may want to sit on the toilet.
- Another sign is that your child’s diapers may stay dry (more than one hour at a time).
It might be helpful to plan to toilet train your child during a time when there are not going to be many significant life changes (such as the start of daycare or school, before or during a vacation or break, or before introducing a new family member). Starting when you have the time and are comfortable with your general routine by easing your kiddo to this one substantial change without overwhelming them can reduce everyone’s stress.
What tips can you use to help your child with toilet training?
Toilet training children with developmental delays may take more patience and planning. There are many techniques, tools, and ideas to help your child transition from diapers to using the toilet. Here are some of our ideas and favorite resources.
- Talk to your family and decide on a good date to start this process. As you work up to this date, start talking to your child about this exciting new adventure. Read books, model, and even watch videos together while you plan together for transitioning. A few of our favorite books are:
- Daniel Tiger’s Potty Time! This is an interactive book with sounds that will help you remember to go potty, flush, and wash your hands!
- Potty Animals! What to know when you gotta go. This is a GREAT book that teaches the social skills that are also needed to go to the bathroom.
- Elmo’s Potty Time song is available on YouTube and is a fun short video that kids seem to love.
- Go shopping with your kiddo and pick out underwear or training pants together. Doing this together can be part of the planning process and also empower your child to feel as though they have some control over this upcoming transition. The transition to wearing underwear and training pants is a BIG one. They are less absorbent than diapers, and your child will likely be able to more easily detect when they have wet or soiled themselves. Some kids and families forego the training pants/underwear and prefer au natural.
- Decide what works for your family in terms of seating. Do you want to introduce a small potty, one that attaches to your toilet seat, or maybe both? Here are our favorites:
- Potty Training Seat that fits over the toilet.
- Potty Training Seat Ladder
- Small Potty for Kids
- When the BIG day arrives, schedule regular trips to the bathroom to start the process as a part of your new daily routine. You can encourage your child to go to the bathroom first thing in the morning and throughout the day before or after meals. Be patient with your child and yourselves. This is NOT an easy task and can be frightening and scary. The more time you take to prepare yourself and your child, the less stress it will cause.
- Offer LOTS of consistent praise. Many children respond very well to “potty prizes” which can be stickers, bubbles, stamps, or a loved snack. Our kiddos love Trader Joe’s Scandinavian Swimmers. Remember that if you are using prizes/incentives, they MUST be implemented immediately. This means you may need to be prepared with these fun prizes even when you are outside your home. If this reward system seems to be working, as your kiddo starts to learn to use the potty AND incentivized by all your praise, you can start to taper down on the immediate reward and build towards a prize for the day or even week. Hopefully all the hard work you and your child have put forth will lead to eliminating prizes all together and result in a feeling of pride in being independent.
Tips to Remember
Even if your child becomes comfortable using the toilet at home, it does not mean they will be comfortable using it at school or other public restrooms. You may need to help familiarize them with different restroom settings as well. Automatic flushes and hand dryers can be loud and scary. Quick trick- if you put a post-it note over the sensor of the toilet, it will not automatically flush!
If toilet training attempts are largely unsuccessful, it may be time to talk to your pediatrician.
Written by: Nava Horjeh and Elevated Insights Assessment August 2022