Facing the Toilet Training Challenge

By Julie Stewart, M.Ed.


One of the greatest challenges families face is the dreaded toilet training process.  Here at the KATC, during almost any professional or family training we provide, we get questions about toilet training across ages and development levels.  It is the family’s decision on when and how to support a child’s involvement in learning the process of using the toilet, however some children may never demonstrate the interest or self-initiation that provides the signs to start “training” that their neurotypical peers may show.  There are some general helpful hints for supporting your child’s toilet training and then more intense program that has been determined to be effective.

Here are some general tips for supporting toilet training:

  • Only attempt toilet training when the child is wearing underwear
  • Begin training on a schedule, having the child go to the bathroom on set time interval (ex. every 30minutes) and stay for a set about of time
    Provide intense levels of liquids to increase the child’s opportunity to practice
  • Always verbalize “time for potty” or “go to bathroom” at the beginning of the intervals; pair with a sign if your child does not vocally communicate
  • Immediately when the child voids (urinates or defecates) in the toilet, provide them with behavior specific praise (“Great job going pee-pee”) and tangible/edible preferred item

IMPORTANT: If toileting is a difficult task to master for your child, the toy or edible given after voiding MUST NOT BE AVAILABLE at ANY OTHER TIME.  Controlling their access to this preferred item will increase it’s motivating potential and increase the likelihood that it will be a strong reinforcer for toileting.

Be sure to fade the use of reinforcement; some use sticker charts but be aware that stickers may not be very interesting and therefore not reinforcing for your child

For boys, putting cheerios or fruit loops in the bowl to make urinating a bit more interesting, creating a game
Putting food coloring in the toilet bowl that will interact with the yellowish urine, such as blue or red
Play card games on a lap-table or tray, read books, sing songs, etc. to extend the amount of time the child attempts

This is not an exhaustive list and should not be all the strategies you try, however hopefully it gives you an idea or two that you haven’t tried.  The most important step of all toilet training is to set your plan, stick with it for a period of time, and take on-going data to make a determination if it is working or not.  If your child starts to not have accidents but you haven’t taken data you may be responding to a placebo affect instead of factual information about how the training process is going.

For children who seemingly do not respond or who have not been successful when the more typical measures are taken in toilet training, there are other


Julie Stewart is a Field Training Coordinator for the KY Autism Training Center. She provides direct training and technical assistance to education staff, social and community personnel, counselors, job coaches and families.

KY Autism Training Center Winter 2013 Newsletter February 2013