Potty Training and Autism

by J

I decided to write a post about our experience in potty training our son with autism, in hopes that our experience can help others trying to do the same. S’s delays are more social in nature, and I will say that cognitively, as well as in gross motor, our son is right on target for his age. S will be 3 in 3 months. Since every child on the spectrum is different, I know that our strategy will not work for all. But, none the less, I will share what we did, in hopes that it will help others.

S has a hard time with transitions and new types of clothing. He has been scared of underwear for a while, so I knew that I had to take this delicately. I knew that just taking away diapers and giving him underwear was not going to work and I knew that we had to do away with diapers right away. There would be no ‘sometimes with diapers and sometimes not’ with him.

So, I decided to take a full 5 days to potty train. I armed myself with the following:

  • Books on potty training
  • Pull ups for nap/night time (NO more diapers)
  • Mini potty
  • Seat ring for big potty
  • Folding portable potty seat cover (for public potties)
  • Baby boxers (too stinking cute)
  • “Big boy” briefs
  • Candy
  • A Potty Chart
  • Lots of loose fitting shorts
  • Puppy training pads
  • Lots of towels and sheets
  • Post-It notes (for the public potty’s auto sensors)
  • A large bottle of Merlot (for me)

The first day, I made the mistake of leaving him in just shorts with no underwear. He urinated on himself, twice, and totally flipped out. I took it light that day, put him into a pull up and then took him out for the rest of the day. He did NOT want to put on the pull up, he wanted his diaper, but I was NOT going back. I had to bribe him with a piece of candy to get him in them… but it worked.

Day two, when he woke up, I took off his pull up and shorts and took him to the potty. I gave him a drink, and we sat there (singing songs and playing games) until he urinated. Then, I made a HUGE deal out his going in the potty. There was dancing, there was singing, there was candy, high fives and a check mark for his potty chart. He was thrilled.

I covered all of our couches with puppy training pads and sheets and then let him run loose all day with no bottoms on. (I turned the heat WAY up, since it was still chili here.) By running around bare bottom, he didn’t get as upset when he peed on himself, since he wasn’t soaking pants. I also think it helped remind him that there was nothing there to catch the pee. He would often ask for his pants, but I would just redirect without making a big deal of the issue.

I continued to offer lots of drinks and spent a lot of time sitting with him at the potty and making a huge deal anytime any pee made it inside. If he started to go while not on the potty, I would carry him to the potty and if ANY of it, even a drop, made it inside, we celebrated. If it was a full miss, I just said “These things happen. Let’s get you cleaned up, and next time, you can try to put your pee in the potty”. I made a point to never say ‘it’s okay’ or to have a negative reaction. I often encouraged him to help me clean it up, but in a positive way.

We don’t often give S candy- so jelly beans were a HUGE motivator for him. Sometimes I think he sat on the potty just praying he would pee so he could get one Yep, I bribed him with sugar. And you know what?, it worked, so I don’t care!

We stayed inside for the next 3 days, only leaving once for a 15 minute walk outside. We were always 10 feet from a potty and it was all potty, all day… for days.

On the 3rd full day, I set out some underwear and boxers on the table. I didn’t try to put any on him, but the next time he asked for pants, I just said that they were on the table and that he could go and pick out a pair. I know that if I had tried to put them on, he would’ve refused, but since I didn’t make a big deal out of it and just let him grab them, it went smoothly. He chose boxers.

I am very proud to say that the whole process only took about a week. He ‘got it’ the second day really, and just needed some refinement as the week went on. He had a few accidents, but most were really our fault (leaving the room for a minute, etc). By the 3rd day he was putting himself on the potty without asking- he just did it himself.

I purchased a portable potty seat cover, that folds up, to keep in my purse for public potties. I also keep a portable potty in the back of our car, just in case. I was sure to make our first trip to a public potty, one that he was very familiar with, and had seen me use multiple times. I wanted him to feel confortable in the environment.

He has done surprisingly well and he only has had one accident while out in public (our very first one). Now that he knows he can ask to go while we are out, he does, and we have done all sorts of things while out and about in his big boy underwear. He can even ‘hold it’ when he knows we are not near a potty, and let me know in time for us to get to one.

Most amazingly, he seems to be nap and night trained as well, only having had one wet pull up since we started. I’m still keeping him in the pull ups for a while though, since I don’t want any unnecessary anxiety around sleeping or underwear, should he wet himself in the night.

It is hard to believe that potty training was so easy for S. I think that mostly, he was just ‘ready’. I also think that for S, it was important that we handled things the way we did. No wishy washy back and forth with diapers, and no cold turkey ‘this is the way we are going to do it’ approach. While we did sort of do it ‘cold turkey’, I didn’t make a big deal out of no more diapers, so he didn’t really get that right away. I dedicated a full week to the potty- no outings, no errands… nothing but potty. I think this helped establish the new normal- his new routine.

In all, it went just fantastic! The first day I dropped him off at daycare in his underwear was a very proud day. He now wears underwear, and hasn’t had an accident in days.

Finally, something with autism that’s easy!