Potty training a child with special needs

Do you ever wish you could travel back in time and slap yourself? Yeah, that’s me when I think of how I complained about how it took so long to potty train my oldest son. It took 2 ½ weeks. You live and you learn with this parenting gig! I’ve spent the better part of the past 4 years trying to potty train my youngest child who happens to have special needs. As with everything else in life he got it…in his time! I just want to encourage other parents who will follow in my footsteps that it CAN be done! Just realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Chances are it won’t happen quickly, won’t be as easy as potty training a typical child, and there will be bad days, but stick with it! Grab your coffee and a pen and I will share the steps we took to ditch the pull-ups!

  • Step 1) Download a visual timer app. My child liked sea creatures so we did a fish one! You will set the timer and allow your child to watch as the time runs out and they will have to sit on the potty again.
  • Step 2) Sit in the bathroom and bring books or even an ipad with a fun app just for potty time! We had our child read books and drink lots of fluids. We started the timer at 2 minutes and when the timer would go off and he would stay dry he would get a TON of praise/positive reinforcement and also a treat! We used an m&m to begin with. After he stayed dry at 2 minute intervals we eventually moved up to 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and so on. If he started having accidents we would stay at the time we were at or move back down. You can play around with time intervals once you see a pattern in how long your child can stay dry. Also switch up the treats. We have used different pieces of candy, popsicles, toys and most recently “surprise eggs” which were just plastic easter eggs with a small toy and/or piece of candy.
  • Step 3) Keep a record of your child’s toileting habits. If you can look at how your child is really doing on paper it’s easier to know for example around what time of day he/she has a bowel movement and you can keep taking them to the potty around that time of day!
  • Step 4) Don’t get discouraged if your child has a bad day…or several! I can recall with clarity the first week that my son stayed dry every single day. I decided to try a trip to the grocery store. He made it through the store and stayed dry, but when we came home he had accident after accident after accident and I was so discouraged. The next day he was back to staying dry. We all have bad days. Even bad potty days!
  • Step 5) Do start potty training when you have a nice block of time to be home. Summer vacation, spring break or any stretch of time where you can focus on the potty will work!
  • Step 6) Keep in mind that the typical guidelines for potty training may not apply. I know they didn’t for our son. He was not able to communicate to us that he had to go. He was not able to pull his pants up or down himself. We focused solely on stretches of time and eventually with much repetition he was able to get to the point where he would just go himself and pull his pants up and down and wash hands and go potty alone! I did notice that when he started to stay dry most of the time at night is when it clicked during the day! We did keep nighttime pull-ups for awhile just in case!

In order to help get your started on this journey, I have created a free potty training data sheet for you!


Posted in Parenting.