Toilet Training

Toilet Training with Autism

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from a CEA parent

My son did not toilet train completely until he was in elementary school. Before he was diagnosed with autism, we read the parenting books written for typical kids. I listened to the other parents in Early Childhood Family Education discuss what they were doing for toilet training and learned that the average age to toilet train was four. Ok, I thought, we have time.

Then our son was diagnosed with autism. We still kept up with the toilet training methods that had been recommended. We dutifully sat him on the toilet – first a little portable potty, then the big toilet with a stool under his feet. We sat and looked at picture books and photo albums, waiting for something to happen and for him to make the connection when it did. When there was finally some “movement,” he looked stricken and immediately cried. He didn’t want to do that again anytime soon, no matter how many times we read Everyone Poops.

We went to a behaviorist. Our son was not conversational at that point, but he seemed to “get it” as the man helped him to understand there was nothing to be afraid of when going to the bathroom. His anxiety seemed to lift after a series of appointments.

And although I had read that many kids with autism take longer to toilet train, all the other kids with  in his school program seemed to have the process down, and were independently using the toilet by the end of preschool while he still needed assistance. Discouraged by our own son’s difficulties, but determined to help him, we read Maria Wheeler’s book Toilet Training for Individuals With Autism Or Other Developmental Issues, which was helpful to collect information geared to a child with autism. We implemented many of her suggestions, including staying on a schedule and how to use rewards effectively.

We talked to his pediatrician. Since our son tended to constipation, we tried Miralax. When that didn’t help, we tried Milk of Magnesia, which helped a little bit, but not enough to make sitting on the toilet a success.

Eventually, he did start to get the idea of urinating in the toilet, but only if he was sitting down. It took a couple of years before he would try standing. And still no luck with a bowel movement in the toilet. 

And then we went to Anne Dudley’s toilet training class. Although the book had been helpful, it was even more helpful to hear information, methods, and encouragement in person from a teacher who “got it.” She was articulate and straightforward, and patiently answered questions from participants, including my own concerns. There was solidarity being in a group of other parents who were working on the same thing with their children. It helped my motivation and helped me persevere.

It gave me the renewed energy to take the next proactive steps. Although true that many kids with autism simply take longer to master going to the bathroom independently (so that much patience with the process is needed), sometimes there are also extra issues. Although we had already been to the doctor to address our concerns, the seminar gave me the push to consult a gastroenterologist for more problem-solving. It led to a hospital test and medical aid to help “clean him out,” and then eventually to probiotics, which is what finally helped his body to function “correctly” so that he could do his business.

Not everyone’s issues in the class were like ours and some had younger children who were quite close to success – their parents were just looking for that last bit of help to get the job done. As always, there is a lot of variety in the autism diagnosis, so each parent’s child was at a different point in the journey of toilet training. Sometimes our kids need a little extra help to learn, and as parents we need a little extra help to know how to teach them, even with a natural body process. Learning information from a trusted expert and with a community of parents helped all of us to take the best next steps for our child.

Join us for our next Toilet Training class on April 18 and access Anne Dudley’s tried and true tips!

Author: Editorial Team

A select group of our board members who have something to say, but want to say it together. We also use this byline for those who wish to write anonymously.

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