potty training a child with special needs

One of the topics we get asked about a lot is potty training.

We’re going to be honest with you—there is nothing easy about potty training anybody! But it’s particularly a challenge with our kids who have sensory or developmental issues.

There are so many philosophies about potty training—just thousands of them! I’m not going to recommend a philosophy, though, because each child is an individual and what might work for one might not work for another. But I’m going to give you some key points that across the board, many of these philosophies recommend.

1. Wait for readiness. First of all, your child needs to be ready. Usually you can tell, or perhaps your pediatrician will be able to tell you. But if they’re expressing no interest in potty training, then it’s probably just an interest of yours, not the child’s! And believe me, I understand! But you do have to wait until they are ready. When they begin to communicate about going to the bathroom, that’s a big indicator.

2. Ditch the diapers! The second thing is, when you take those diapers off, you take them off for good! You’ve got to throw them away, and you’re done! You don’t want to pull them back out because you felt that your attempt was a failure. And I can tell you that for most of our kids with sensory issues, it can take two, three, even four times as long to potty train. They need to see your consistency.

So a lot of it is how prepared are you, mom and dad, vs. the kiddo. The kiddo is going to follow your lead, so you really have to persevere. This is really more of a journey than it is a quick process with many of our kids. And for some, it’s actually kind of painless and they go through it rather rapidly!

3. Use underwear. The other thing I would suggest is putting the child in underwear, so that when they have an accident they can actually feel the wetness. That’s an important part, for them to feel that sensation. Parents ask, “What about my furniture?” Well, put on plastic pants or something, so that your furniture is protected. 

Also, if your child does have an accident, make that part of the learning process. Let them be part of cleaning themselves up—that’s how they learn. It’s really discouraging to feel that wetness, and have to go through the process of cleaning yourself up. Usually we don’t like to do things we don’t enjoy, and we’ll try harder to prevent that. So make them go through that process and talk about it, and make it an educational experience. 

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