Autism and tips from a "potty pro"

Ashley Hickey


Every parent has to endure the task of potty training. Potty training any child can be difficult. Potty training a child with special needs can seem impossible. With the right techniques, any parent can help their child succeed, even if you’ve tried it all.

The first step is to figure out when your child is ready. And once your child is ready, it is important you are ready. Consistency is crucial when potty training any child. You will know your child is ready when he shows evidence of bladder control. Is he able to keep his diaper dry for several hours at a time? It is also important to teach your child how to independently pull his pants up and down. If he can physically perform the task, then he is ready for training. Even if your child has limited communication skills, he can be potty trained.

The key to successful potty training is the reinforcer. Anything that increases the probability that one will do the behavior again in the future is a reinforcer. Reinforcers change behavior. Before you begin potty training, it is important to figure out what your child will climb mountains for. Once you know, this is what you will use as a reinforcer. You can use this reinforcer as a reward for your child having a success on the potty. A reinforcer can be a favorite food, activity, game, book, etc. You wouldn’t normally give your child a spoonful of icing, but if it’s what he wants more than anything else, you should use it for potty training. .

The reinforcer will only be effective if your child understands what he has to do to get the reinforcer. (“When you go pee in the potty, you can have a spoonful of icing”) The reinforcer needs to be given every time he goes pee in the potty. It needs to be given immediately, even before he gets off the potty or pulls up his pants. It needs to be paired with behavior specific praise. (“Wow, you went pee in the potty! Here’s your icing!”) Make sure your child gets enough of the reinforcer to be rewarded, but not satisfied. It is good if he wants more. This will encourage another success. It is important to have more than one reinforcer because it may lose its power. Make sure you have at least 5 different items. The chosen reinforcer should be used for one behavior. If you want to change a different behavior, choose a different reinforcer

Potty training is an important life skill that will allow your child to be independent, will promote social interactions with peers and will increase your child’s opportunities to participate in age appropriate activities.

Ashley Hickey, is a potty training specialist and owner of Successful Potty Training


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