Show your child the toilet to prepare him for potty training.

Potty Training Ideas for Special Needs Kids

by Cara Batema

Even if patience is not your best attribute, it is a much-needed emotion for potty training special needs kids. Your child might have a physical or mental disability that could keep him from potty training at the rate of his peers. This realization probably makes you more aware of your child’s successes at tasks that at one point seemed impossible. When you use the potty training process as a marker of your child’s overall growth, you can motivate this new development and improve your child’s self-esteem.

Is Your Child Ready?

The first step of potty training your special needs child is to determine if he is really ready. If your child knows when he is wet or dry, can sense the need to urinate or have a bowel movement, can dress or undress himself, can get to the toilet by himself or with some assistance, and seems motivated to learn the process, he is likely ready for training, according to


Some special needs kids might require the use of special tools outside of the typical toddler-sized potty chair. Children with some physical difficulties might find it easier to remove clothes with hook-and-loop fasteners rather than buttons. You might need to have bar supports around the toilet, so your child can hold himself up over the toilet. Children with intellectual abilities might have trouble making the connection between feeling wet and needing to go to the bathroom. Consider purchasing a musical sensor to put into a diaper that makes music when it senses urination or bowel movements. You can whisk your child away to the toilet immediately -- the sound serves as immediate feedback for your child, and he will begin to recognize that sensing toileting means he needs to get to the bathroom.

Potty Training Tricks

While some aspects of potty training a special needs kid are different from neurotypical children, tips from classical potty training can work for your child. Keep a diary of when your child wets his diaper -- does it happen during the same time each day? Set up a regular schedule of going to the potty; suggests this method for continence problems, and you should put your child on the potty frequently. Pediatric nurse practitioner Claire Keeler, in an article for "Exceptional Parent," suggests letting your child see you and other family members use the toilet. Explain the process in simple sentences, which is good for any child with a cognitive delay. If your child has a visual impairment, guide his hand to the toilet roll and let him feel pushing down the lever to flush the toilet.

Handling Resistance

Your special needs child might resist potty training for a variety of reasons, so finding the source of that behavior helps you deal with it. For example, your child might have pain passing hard stool and will resist the bowel movement entirely, according to You might need to use laxatives or a high-fiber diet with plenty of liquids to make stool softer and easier to pass. A child with intellectual disabilities might find the process frustrating and could resist training. The trick in this situation is to provide plenty of support and praise. Go at your child’s pace, and if he is actively resisting potty training, forget about it for a few days and try again.

Praise and Rewards

Any accomplishment, no matter how little it seems, requires praise from you. If your child gets one drop of pee in the toilet, do a dance and give your child a high five. If he notices he’s wet, give a hug or verbal “good job,” even if he doesn’t make it to the toilet. Give small rewards, such as a cracker or a sticker in a chart on the fridge.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.

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