Toilet training

Toilet training can be a challenging time for families and early childhood educators but when a child has autism the challenge, and need for support, increases.

Heather Morse, who has a degree in early education and a master’s degree in early childhood special education, understands just how difficult this can be. As a key worker in a one of SDN’s transdisciplinary disability teams, Heather regularly supports families and educators to successfully toilet train children with autism.

The families and educators Heather has worked with have often tried two or three times to toilet train with autism, only to find it doesn’t work in the same way it did for other children.

“This can be for any number of individual reasons,” Heather said. “For example, children with autism commonly have sensory processing issues that make it more challenging to toilet train them. These can include difficulties sitting on the toilet, or finding the sound of the toilet flushing distressing.”

Child playing

Heather takes a strengths-based approach to toilet training, focussing on the things the child can do and breaking it down to find out what is not working for that particular child.

To support this approach Heather advises taking 1-2 weeks to observe the child without changing anything. This provides the opportunity to understand the child, identify patterns, and develop an individualised solution to help the child achieve independence and success.
“Once a pattern has been found, the child can be guided to the toilet at those times. This also provides the opportunity to reward desired behaviour (such as sitting on the toilet) with a reward that is meaningful for that child.”
Perhaps the most important tip that Heather gives to families and educators is to plan and be prepared. Heather advises:

  • Not starting until the child shows signs of being interested in toilet training - if the child is not interested, then try sparking their interest by changing their nappy in the toileting space.
  • Waiting until there are appropriate time and space to train the child – it’s important to ensure the routine you establish is not going to be disrupted by holidays or major disruptions to family life.
  • Setting up an appropriate reward system that meets the interests of the child.
  • Preparing the child with the skills they will need, such as being able to pull down pants and flush the toilet.

Heather is one of the facilitators of SDN Beranga’s professional learning workshop on toilet training children with autism.

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