A Preflight Checklist for Potty Training


potty trainingJust like a pilot runs through a checklist before he is ready to fly, it’s always a good idea for any parent thinking about potty training their child to run through a similar checklist before they begin. This will help you verify that you have the proper equipment and are prepared for any obstacle or circumstance you might run in to.  You always want to tackle the job with confidence and being proactive is a smart way to approach the teaching of any new skill.

Below you will find a partial checklist designed help you identify some of the things you need to consider before you start the toilet training process. Depending on all the qualities that make your child unique and where your child falls on the autism spectrum, the preparation will differ for each and every parent but this is a good place to start.

  • The bathroom environment. Is your bathroom environment user-friendly for your child and if not, what accommodations can you make? You need to make sure the important articles are accessible such as towels, towel racks, step-stool, and soap. It’s important to identify any barriers that might be in the way of success such as doors, light switches and water that is too hot.  As silly as it sounds, consider mood music and lighting because a relaxing, calm and inviting atmosphere will go far in reducing anxiety and producing the results you desire. Consider minimizing possible distractions such as decorations, fancy soaps, toys, windows, toilet paper so your child can concentrate on the task at hand.
  • Clothing considerations. Will the clothing you use help your child independently care of his/her toileting needs? Forget cute and go functional! Restrictive clothing increases risk for accidents because it is too timely to remove. Consider loose fitting, easy-on/easy-off, knit wear. It may not look that great but is user friendly. Skirts and dresses are OK but you may want to avoid long shirts.
  • Diapers vs. underpants. Children need to feel wetness when accidents occur and diapers pull wetness from the body which defeats the purpose. You need to make accidents uncomfortable! Consider regular underpants with a diaper or plastic cover over it. This catches the excess but still allows for wetness on their skin. To avoid sensory sensitivities from interfering with the potty training process, consider what your child’s sensitivities might be to fabrics and textures, pressure of elastic, tags and/or seams in advance.
  • Training equipment. What equipment will be the most user friendly to your child? What accommodations will work best to lessen any potential for anxiety? Will a standalone potty chair or a commode with adaptor help your child feel most safe, secure and comfortable? A simple step-stool is extremely useful for reaching the sink to wash hands and to create a safe and stable platform for sitting properly on the commode to support legs at a 45 degree angle which will facilitate pushing /straining for bowel movements.
  • Reward systems. Specific, verbal praise from someone that loves you is often very effective but sometimes is not enough. For learning a new and challenging task such as potty training, you may have to use an additional type of reward. Whichever you decide to use, make sure the item is enticing and highly preferred. Make sure you only use this item for success in the bathroom and nothing else in order to reinforce the toileting behaviors you want to see. Your choice of reward needs to be determined in advance, used consistently and given only after the entire toileting routine is completed.
  • Timing. Timing can be everything is crucial. When approaching any new task it is important to shoot for a time where you have normalcy in your regular routine. Starting a potty training routine for your autistic child is stressful for all and adding it to a situation that might already be filled with tension is not a good idea. Potty training is not a wise thing to introduce if you are going on vacation, in the process of moving, or the birth of another child is approaching.
  • Communication. A key component! Is your autistic child verbal or non-verbal? A visual or auditory learner? Does your child think best in pictures? Are alternative forms of communication necessary? Your answers to these questions will determine if there is a need for spoken or visual cues such as a printed word check-off list or a picture schedule. If you have a child who is a concrete black-and-white thinker you need to specify your prompts. Saying pull your pants/underwear down to your knees vs. undress is better because literal thinkers will remove all clothing when given the term undress.

All of this may sound excessive but a successful potty training program demands it. Let’s face it, the training process is going to interfere with your established and comfortable routine as well as your child’s. The best way to make the transition easier for both of you is by making sure you have all your ducks in a row.  Once you feel prepared the next step is to effectively and clearly communicate what the new toilet training schedule will look like to your child. If you would like more strategies to guide your potty training efforts you can email me at to schedule your free 20 minute consultation.


Categories : Uncategorized

Leave a Reply