Potty training & Autism: Not for the faint hearted! 5

potty training autism

In about 7 weeks Hayden turns 5. And like many other 5 year olds he has pretty good bladder control. He is dry almost every night, he stays dry whilst we are out and about and he generally goes at specific times (you know, when you’d expect him to…first thing, after a big drink etc.). Of course there is the odd mishap, but I think that’s pretty ‘normal’ right?

How is he different to many other 5 year olds? Well, this is all whilst still wearing a nappy.

You would think, a little boy with that much control around all things toilet would be quite easy to potty train right?


Just over 2 weeks ago, Hayden got up one morning and decided he no longer wanted to wear a nappy. Great! Maybe that was finally a sign he was ready to accept that ‘nappies aren’t for big boys’. Maybe he was settled enough to finally give pants a try!

I didn’t fight it, I accepted I had to tackle this bad boy!

It was time for potty training!

With the weather being nicer (supposedly) and the school holidays around the corner, there probably wasn’t a better time for us to start working on getting him out of nappies for good.

I knew it wouldn’t be an easy task though. Potty training isn’t easy for anyone involved. Every parent goes through it, some have more success than others, some children get to grips with it all pretty quickly, others take weeks, months, some even longer!

Hayden knows it is coming, when it is coming, and that he doesn’t like feeling it against his skin, however due to his Autism, he doesn’t really get that actually its dirty. He doesn’t understand that he cant just do it anywhere, he cant touch it or play with it. Trying to explain he is going to be like mummy or daddy just doesn’t work. He doesn’t look at the other kids at preschool and ‘want to be like them’. He isn’t comfortable with change and new things, so why would introducing a toilet be any different with the way he approaches it? I knew I needed bags of patience (something I don’t generally do very well) and plenty of kitchen roll, carpet cleaner, cloths, trousers, pants and lollies.

The first day, I let him lead the way. I wanted to see what he could and couldn’t do. Maybe he was more ready than I thought, maybe he was beginning to understand where he should be going to wee and poo, maybe I was the reason we hadn’t nailed it previously.

When he had his first accident, I didn’t make a fuss, I just explained that we don’t wee on the floor and we use the potty or the toilet. I kept prompting him to sit on the potty, and he would. After several little attempts we managed to catch it at just the right time. We had our first success! A wee and a poo! I made a huge fuss. We had high fives, whooping, silly mummy dancing and ice lolly treats. He was grinning from ear to ear, so I figured the praise was the right thing to do. I hoped after a few times it would click. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t expect perfection on the first day, the first week even. In fact I don’t expect perfection at all, but I find Hayden is very much the kind of child that when something ‘clicks’, it’s there for good.

The rest of the day wasn’t as successful and we had several accidents. When it was time to get him ready for bed I was worried he would still refuse the nappy, but he was happy to wear it for bedtime.


The following morning, once again, as soon as he woke up he stripped off and removed the nappy. Dry, as usual. Once again I kept taking him to the potty in the hope we would catch something, anything. We didn’t have much joy-none in fact. It was a frustrating day but my patience remained intact and there was no fuss made. I knew this was going to be a major challenge, but I was so desperate for something to celebrate with him. Luckily it was a nice day so most accidents happened in the garden (Thank god for the garden).

The next day was a pre school day and I wasn’t sure whether to leave him without the nappy, or see if he would wear one for his three hours at school. I also know how influential his 1:1 is, so him not wearing a nappy wasn’t necessarily a big deal. In fact maybe she could help. Hubby didn’t necessarily agree it was fair to put that pressure on her. Fortunately he was happy having a nappy on for school but literally the second he got home it was off again.

We read up a little bit on potty training and autism and discovered that for many children on the spectrum the potty could confuse them further, so we decided to scrap the potty and just go straight to using the toilet instead. As Hayden responds to visual things much better than spoken words I also created a visual timetable that may help him understand what he ‘has to do’. He was incredibly interested in the new pictures on the wall in the toilet, but he still didn’t really understand.

visual timetable

I also figured, that as Hayden has problems with communication, telling us he needs to go could be something that would effect any progress. I created some toilet prompt cards that he could keep in his trouser pocket, and instead of the pressure of trying to find the words he could just hand us the card.

He loved having the card in his pocket. Every time I took him to the toilet I would get out his card, explain where we were going then put it back in his pocket, in the hope he would eventually ‘get it’.

toilet pic

A few days in we still hadn’t had much success, it was also incredibly difficult. We had to constantly watch him looking for signs that he needed to go. He soon got wise and would just hold it in until our backs were turned. As much as I would love to spend my entire day following Hayden around, I also have a baby to feed and change, and an Ellis to keep occupied.

After talking to his 1:1 she said she was happy for him to go into school without a nappy, so the next day we gave it a try. We stocked his bag up with changes of pants and trousers, gave him his prompt cards and gave her a copy of the timetable. When we picked him up, he had shown his card twice and used the toilet both times. He came home dry. Brilliant! Hopefully something had clicked and we can continue the progress over the weekend. Ten minutes after he got in, he had an accident!

Even though we were advised not to use a potty, I decided to buy 3 new potty’s and dot them around the garden and house, if for no other reason, just as a prompt or reminder.

Hayden likes sitting on them, but that’s as far as it goes.

17 days in, it isn’t going too well! There have only been a couple (literally) of success stories.

The toilet has also become a warzone and tantrums resume nearly every time I try to take him! Which in turn makes me cross and the whole experience is stressful for both of us.

I have tried staying with him, turning my back, completely leaving him alone. Reading potty training books, talking about it, taking him with me when I go,  and everything else I can think of. We have had pants on, pants off, trousers on, trousers off. And to be honest my determination to make the whole thing a success has diminished. I am constantly stressed out by it. Not because there are accidents or because we haven’t got it sussed in a fortnight. He proved that day at school, he understands, he gets it, he knows what he needs to do. He just will not do it at home.

Why? What is different? Is he playing up? Is he scared? Is it because the toilets are smaller and less intimidating at school? I have no idea! He cannot tell me!

It is one thing him having accidents because he didn’t get to the toilet in time, or because it took him by surprise, its another thing having accidents because he doesn’t ‘get it’! Will he ever ‘get it’?!

Every one I speak to offer their support, encouragement, or advice. And it is lovely of them to give that advice. Of course! But comparing my experience to there’s isn’t necessarily what it is about. As far as potty training goes, he has it. He has the control, the awareness, the realisation its happening. On paper, he is more than ready. Now take away the speech, the logical thought process. Add in the fear of change and the inability to share emotions and thoughts. He isn’t so ready! But he wont wear a nappy! I have no choice but to persevere. Even though I really, really do not want to. I get the feeling it is going to be one long summer!



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5 thoughts on “Potty training & Autism: Not for the faint hearted!

  • James

    Good timing to read this post as it’s one of our goals to tackle this year. My 2 are both still in nappies, and being 7 and 4, would love to help them become toilet trained soon. With communication being such a challenge it’s going to be difficult……..
    It sounds like it’s been really tough, so look forward to the update you mentioned, and hopefully hearing about some success 🙂


  • Lady Nym

    That sounds really rough. Tyger really surprised me with potty training. I was expecting it to be an absolute nightmare and when he went through 13 pairs of pants on the first day I prepared myself for months of work. But he was dry during the day within a week or two and dry at night not long after that! I was gobsmacked.

    I’m not looking forward to potty training Bear, though!


  • RainbowsR2beautiful (@rainbowsaretoo)

    David was 4. We had lots of accidents mostly because he was just too involved in something to go. Initially he had to finish something before he would go and then he had to realise he could come back to things afterwards. He’s non verbal. We had a toilet card on the front of the loo door, that way he was pretty close when he got it so a better chance of him being there. He’s in reception and still had the odd accident if he’s distracted but I try not to worry that it’s lapsing. Our eldest with ASD was verbal so at least there was some way of talking or explaining things. Our little madam knows exactly what to do but kissing a bit of control at 2.5! Hope it worked/works out.

  • Someone's Mum

    Oh my goodness, I can relate to this sooo much. My son is 3 yrs and 3 months, recently diagnosed and we are on our … msybe 5th?… potty training attempt.

    I am going so slowly and trying to have patience. He speaks well and is capable of asking to sit on the toilet but he just won’t most of the time. He understands pants but screams hysterically if we even put them near him. He will scream “Pleeeease, pleaaaase put ny nappy on!” Like the world is ending and it breaks my heart. The paediatrician said to just leave it but we’re doing as relaxed an approach as we can (nursery say he can’t be in the preschool room unless we’re trying).

    So the potty is out and he has an identical one at nursery. He very occasionally asks to sit on it as he knows he gets a sticker but he can’t seem to realise *when* he needs it. So 9/10 he just sits because he doesn’t need to pee. I have been at a loss to know what to do – just carry on like this or try something else.

    If I strip him off with potty or toilet nearby he just does it on the floor.

    It is a relief to know it’s so common and not something I’m doing wrong. I wish I could see an end in sight though!

  • Clare Peckover

    hi Clare, I totally get your pain. Conway potty trained early 2 years ago and was dry from day 1. However, when it comes to poo’s, we have s real issue still! I’m concerned with him starting school and we’ve tried everything. He knows when he needs to go, but refuses to use the toilet or potty. Instead he hides away and goes in his pants and when I ask why the response I get is that he is shy or scared! I really am at my wits end and yes it makes me cross, which doesn’t help matters. I’m hoping it will change when he starts school, only time will tell! Xxx