Potty training your special needs child takes extra patience.

How to Toilet Train a Child With Special Needs

by Debbie Dragon

Toilet training children with special needs takes extra time, patience and equipment. Children begin toilet training around age 2 or 2 1/2 or sometimes later, according to the Mayo Clinic. Children with developmental delays or autism can take up to a year past this age to start. Consult your pediatrician with any readiness questions before beginning. With a little extra preparation and patience, your special needs child will be using the potty before you know it.

Bring your child into the bathroom with you and explain what you are doing. Children with visual impairments will need more time to get familiar with the bathroom and should be allowed to investigate the room and toilet with their hands. Install grab bars and steps to the toilet for children with motor skill challenges. Let all children know that big kids use the potty and don't need diapers anymore.

Show your child the difference between wet and dry by checking his diaper every few hours. Use simple terms like “wet” and “dry” to alert him of the diaper's condition when you check. Children with auditory disorders need established gestures for “pee," "poop," "wet" and "dry.” Show your child a picture book about potty training ahead of time. For autistic children who are visual, AutismToday.com recommends using picture symbols to break down the steps of using the toilet.

Choose a training potty your child likes, as well as some fun underwear that will get her excited about losing the diapers. For children with sensory processing disorders who may be frightened by the sight of a toilet, decorate it for them to make it more appealing. Select a toilet that is the correct size for a developmentally delayed child, because he will be larger than a child who starts earlier.

Sit your child on the potty on a regular schedule, as often as every hour, for 5 to 10 minutes at a time to encourage success. Once you have established regular potty breaks, you can start bringing her to the potty less often. Children with sensory processing disorders may be alarmed by the feel of a cold toilet, so warm it beforehand. Play a CD with white noise, the ocean or other relaxing sounds so your child is not alarmed by the sounds of toilets flushing or urinating into the bowl.

Give your child a favorite book or toy to pass the time. Even adults have magazine racks in their bathrooms!

Teach steps one at a time for children with developmental delays. Focus your instruction on teaching the child to use the potty first, before worrying about wiping and pulling up his own pants.

Give positive reinforcement such as a smile and the word “pee!” or “poopie!” after your child uses the toilet successfully. Once he learns to wipe, say or gesture the phrase you used earlier with a smile and say “dry!”

Give your child a reward each time she is successful such as candy or a sticker. Once she has become proficient, you can eliminate this.

Items you will need

  • Potty training toilet
  • Underwear
  • Children's books
  • Toys
  • Rewards


  • Focus first on going in the potty followed by learning how to wipe, then pulling up your child's pants. Don’t try to accomplish all tasks at once. Children with developmental delays need to learn steps one at a time.
  • Select a potty that is the correct size, because a delayed child is usually a little older, and needs a larger seat.


  • Children with motor skill challenges may require specialized custom toilets, grab bars on the wall or steps up to the potty.

About the Author

Debbie Dragon has been writing since 2003. She graduated from the College of Saint Rose with a Bachelor of Science degree in computer information systems and a minor in business administration. She is the co-owner of TrifectaLLC.com and ReliableWriters.com. Dragon's work has been published on hundreds of websites, including Entrepreneur.com and she has ghostwritten several books and ebooks.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images