What to Do When Potty Training Efforts Have Stalled

What to Do When Potty Training Efforts Have Stalled

Potty training takes persistence and patience on the part of any parent, but this goes double for the parents of children challenged by autism and autism spectrum disorders.

Your child may have difficulty giving up established routines, communicating, have sensory issues or even have low muscle tone, all of which can make toilet training into a longer, slower process.

If you’ve started potty training, but progress has stalled out, we have some tips to share that could help get you back on the path to a diaper-free existence.

Honor when your child says, “No.”

Taking “no” for an answer and even demonstrating excitement about this important communication your child is giving you, creates a sense of control and predictability in their world, inspiring them to trust you and become more flexible to this new idea in the future.

Remember that no means no now, but not forever. It’s okay to take a break, especially if a break will help you both start over in a more relaxed and easy way. Sometimes our children remember feeling pushed or rushed around their past toileting experiences and a break will help you take a breath and try again with a new attitude.

Start again when you see consistent signs of readiness such as your child showing or telling you when her diaper is wet or soiled, and being able to stay dry for at least an hour at a time, indicating she has some level of bladder control.

Check in with your own feelings and intentions.

Sometimes we parents are far more motivated than our children to get potty training over with! This makes sense, as we’re the ones doing all the work of changing diapers and cleaning up accidents! But in our haste, we may apply unintentional pressure or express disappointment when we are unsuccessful.

Your efforts will be far more successful when you can get yourself to a place of accepting this journey will take patience and not attaching to “success” within a certain timeframe. Remember that every potty related interaction is a learning opportunity! Even the accidents!

Take a break from other goals.

Potty training is a big task! It takes effort on the part of the child and you. Trying to tackle too many goals while also potty training will stress you both out! It’s a good idea to put some other goals on hold. Put language and other social goals to the side for a bit. Focus your efforts and energy on putting pee and poop in the toilet while still having fun and strengthening your bond.

Have some fun with it!

There are lots of ways to have fun with the potty and keep your child’s enthusiasm high. Get some exciting underwear featuring designs or characters he loves. (A side benefit is that real underwear will help your child know when he’s wet and can speed up the process.) Turn a trip to the potty into a travel adventure game. Sing a song about peeing and pooping in the potty! For example, try singing the following lines to the tune of “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain”

  • He’ll be peeing in the potty when he comes
  • He’ll be peeing in the potty when he comes
  • He’ll be peeing in the potty, peeing in the potty
  • Peeing in the potty when he comes

Play to your child’s interests.

You know your child better than anyone, so why not find creative, individualized ways to motivate your child to gain toilet independence? Some examples: if your child loves trains, put pictures of trains all over the toilet; if your older child loves science, show her diagrams of the human digestive process or where the pee and poop goes after we flush!


Don’t forget to celebrate each and every little victory and lesson along the way. Enthusiasm will keep your child’s motivation high — and as you know, we at The Autism Treatment Center believe motivation is the key to learning!

And remember, you don’t have to go it alone! Recruit members of your family to help reinforce all the great things that come with peeing and pooping in the potty. And if you need extra assistance, we’re here for you!

Feel free to give us a call at 413-229-2100. Just a 25 minute phone call with one of our Senior Child Facilitators could give you fresh perspective that will lead to potty training success!


Good luck! We know you’ll get there!

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