Toilet or potty training is a topic that causes many parents a great deal of anxiety. Now imagine toilet training a child with Special Needs. Maybe the child is non-verbal and unable to communicate his needs. Or maybe the child has cognitive delays and cannot grasp the concept. For children with sensory aversions, the feeling of toilet paper, or being wet or dirty can cause severe anxiety and behavior problems.

One thing that is consistent among all children is that it is important to wait until the child shows signs of readiness before toilet training begins. It is certainly okay to introduce the idea to a child but the child must be responsive to it for training to begin successfully. If the child is not ready it is not worth trying, at least not yet. The anxiety level of the caregiver and child can affect the process and training failure can negatively impact the child’s self-esteem. The most important thing to remember when potty training a child is to be patient, especially when the child has special needs. The process may need to be adapted to a child’s specific needs and there may be a lengthy “trial and error” period.

Signs that may indicate your child is ready for training and be seen in his ability to:

  • follow instructions
  • understand words about the toilet and the process of training
  • control the muscles responsible for elimination
  • verbally express the need to go
  • keep a diaper dry for at least 2 hours or more
  • show an interest in using the potty or wearing underpants
  • pull down diapers, training pants or underpants
  • sit on a potty chair and then get off of it
  • show an interest in using the potty or wearing underpants

Wait to choose a potty chair until your child has shown that he is ready to begin toilet training. You can have him decorate it with stickers and sit on it with clothes on to read books or watch TV. This may help him get used to it.

Things to avoid when you begin the toilet training process are:

  • Beginning during a stressful time or period of change in the family (moving, new baby, etc.).
  • Pushing your child too fast and punishing mistakes. Treat accidents and mistakes lightly. Be sure to go at your child’s pace and show strong encouragement and praise when he is successful.
  • Dressing your child in clothes that are difficult for him to manage or remove himself.
  • A high expectation for nighttime training. For many children, nighttime bladder control comes later than daytime training.

Do you have potty training tips that were particularly effective?

Amy Bontempo is the Manager of Family and Community Engagement at Penfield Children’s Center.  She supervises the Community Outreach Educator, Volunteer Coordinator, Parent Mentor Program, and Family Programs of which Penfield host over 60 per year.  She has served on the Board of Directors for the Down Syndrome Association (DSAW) of Wisconsin since 2011 and previously served on the Volunteer Respite Committee for Children’s Service Society now part of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin Community Services, and the Family Resource Connection of Milwaukee Co.

Dowshen, Steven. “Toilet Teaching Your Child.” KidsHealth. Nemours. November 2011. Web. 5 May 2014.

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