Look who is a big boy now!

Potty Training Stubborn Children With Disabilities

by Holly Diaz

So, you are ready to say goodbye to those expensive diapers, but YIKES! Potty training?! The process of potty training is challenging and unique for every child, but potty training a child with a disability adds a whole new level of difficulty. The characteristics of a child with autism, Down syndrome or cerebral palsy are all very different, and so must be the approach for potty training. And if that didn't add enough to your plate, you know that you have a stubborn child. Don't panic. The good news: stubborn or not, you can train children with special needs to use the toilet, in most cases. Potty training can be frustrating; no doubt about it, but potty training is also a rewarding process for you and your child. With the help of a few key potty training strategies, your child can do this. Be prepared to be proud!

1. Ensure Physical Readiness

Determine if your child is developmentally ready for the potty training process. There are two parts to potty training readiness: physical readiness and intellectual readiness. Generally, children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years begin to display signs of physical readiness. This process may be delayed for children with a disability, especially those stubborn little ones. Physical readiness becomes evident when your child is able to tell you when he needs to go to the bathroom, or he may tell you after he has gone to the bathroom. He should be able to stay dry for extended periods of time, at least two hours. It is also helpful if your child is able to assist in dressing himself, although this is often a challenging life skill for children who have been diagnosed with a disability. If you are not seeing any of these signs in your child, put off potty training for now. Understand that these signs may become evident at a later date for a child who has a disability. According to HealthyChildren.org, the process of potty training a child with special needs may not be in place until the child is five years old, or even later in come cases.

2. Ensure Intellectual Readiness

A child who is intellectually ready to start potty training is able to cooperate (to some degree…yes we are still dealing with a toddler!) Intellectual readiness can be challenging to identify if your child displays language deficits. In this case, use a limited amount of language, incorporating short, key phrases. Assistive technology, such a visual picture cues, may be helpful to ensure a child with language deficits or auditory impairments understands what you are expecting of him. The child may display discomfort when he is wet or soiled. He may ask to use the potty or to wear "big boy" underwear. A child who is ready for the potty training process may display some type of disappointment in himself when accidents occur. Again, put the process on hold if you are noticing signs of reluctance.

3. Meet the Needs of the Child

Ensure that the needs of your child are being met. Every child is different and so are the strategies and tools available for potty training. Select a potty training seat that is appropriate for your child. This may be easier said than done with all of the options available these days. You may consider a child-sized free standing potty chair that sits on the ground. There are also cushioned inserts on the market that you can place on the regular household toilet. Beware, the options are overwhelming! Keep in mind that using a cushioned insert on the household toilet may be more difficult for your child to climb up on. This is especially true if your child displays an orthopedic disability or gross motor delays. On the other hand, he may be motivated to use the “big boy” potty. It is helpful to allow the child to participate in the process of establishing a potty training seat. If the child has some say in the potty training seat, he is sure to be more excited about the process. You can even let the child decorate his potty training seat with stickers, to make it his own. Most importantly, make sure the seat you choose is developmentally appropriate to meet your child’s needs. Consider the shape, size and features of the seat. A child with sensory difficulties may have a hard time with a potty that makes sounds or plays music. These features may be the ideal motivator to address the "stubborn" in other children. A child with a visual impairment may be dependent on the sounds the seat makes to be successful using the potty. Consider the location of the potty training seat. Make sure that the potty is easy to access often. A child with a visual impairment needs obstacle-free, direct access to the potty. The upstairs corner bathroom is probably not the best place for the training seat if the child spends most of his time in the family room downstairs. When he’s got to go, he’s got to go! The potty you choose will get its fair share of use before this process is over.

4. Be Patient

Be patient and encouraging. Potty training takes time and sometimes a few tears of frustration. Her stubbornness is not likely to disappear during the potty training process. Understanding how to control their bladder is an overwhelming change for children--a bad habit that can be hard to break. Make sure your child has many opportunities to do what is expected of her. Take your child to the potty frequently, especially if she has a special need. Every 30 minutes to an hour is a good rule of thumb for starters. As your child becomes use to the process, you can increase the time between potty breaks. Potty breaks themselves may require some patience. It can take some time for the pee to come. Don't forget, when potty training, you are asking the child to “hold it” 90% of the time. It will take some time to get things flowing when the child is suddenly asked to use the potty. Accidents are normal for all children, including those who have a disability. Don't let accidents set you back. It's your turn to be stubborn...stubborn in your high expectations for what you know she can do! Be consistent, and let your child know that you are her biggest fan through this process. Together, you and your child can find success in potty training. Say goodbye to those expensive diapers!

About the Author

Holly Diaz earned her bachelor's degree in general and special education. After working in the public school setting for five years, she began writing curriculum for an education representative. Diaz has authored numerous educational text passages, online lessons and assessments.

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