Toilet or potty training is a significant developmental milestone for children. However, for individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), developing a toilet routine can take longer and present unique challenges.

Autism can significantly influence a child’s ability to grasp and follow the conventional steps of toilet training. As caregivers, understanding how autism may influence toilet training is crucial in providing effective support and guidance.

In this article, we delve into how to start potty training for autistic children, offering insights, strategies, and practical tips to navigate this journey with patience and empathy.

toddler toilet trainingShare on Pinterest
hobo_018/Getty Images

Autistic children may have issues with sensory sensitivities, making the transition to using the toilet uncomfortable or overwhelming. Additionally, difficulties understanding verbal instructions and expressing needs may hinder their progress in toilet training, and disrupting their current routine may be difficult.

It is important to remember that all children are different and may not respond to the same teaching techniques. Additionally, nonverbal children may face different challenges.

What is autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that typically appears during childhood. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1 in 100 children have autism.

Autism can affect individuals differently, affecting their social interactions, communication skills, and behavior. Young children with autism may exhibit a wide range of features, including:

  • having sensory sensitivities
  • being uncomfortable with changes to their routine
  • having issues when being comforted

While the exact cause of autism remains unknown, doctors believe it involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Learn more about autism.

When beginning toilet training for an autistic child, it is essential to approach the process with patience, consistency, and understanding.

The National Autistic Society recommends starting a potty training routine when:

  • a child has an awareness of needing to go to the toilet
  • changes in behavior patterns, such as fidgeting when they have soiled
  • they let someone know when they need to change

A person can begin by introducing the concept of using the toilet in a gentle and positive manner, taking into account the child’s individual needs and preferences. They can then gradually familiarize the child with the bathroom environment, allowing them to explore and become comfortable with the space.

Consistency and keeping the sequence of behaviors the same every time is key when establishing a toilet routine for autistic children. Often, when an autistic child anticipates an activity, they may be more receptive to it.

Some tips for developing a successful toilet training routine include:

  • creating a schedule
  • using visual aids
  • using encouragement

Teaching toilet training as a whole routine, from communicating the need to go to the toilet and using the toilet to drying hands rather than just sitting on the toilet, can also be beneficial.

Finding what motivates a child can be essential in toilet training. Some tips for motivating children during toilet training include using:

  • Positivity: Identifying a child’s interests and preferences using positive reinforcement, such as praise, rewards, or favorite activities.
  • Atmosphere: Keep the atmosphere relaxing and supportive, avoiding pressure or punishment for accidents.
  • Progress: Celebrate small achievements and progress, boosting confidence and a sense of accomplishment.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?

While the basic principles of toilet training apply to all genders, there are some specific considerations for boys and girls. Typically, girls show readiness signs earlier than boys.


For boys, it is essential to teach them to accurately aim while standing or sitting on the toilet to avoid mess. Providing visual cues or targets can help improve accuracy. Not all autistic boys may want to stand, so when deciding whether to teach them to sit or stand, some considerations include the following:

  • Can they distinguish between when they want to wee and poo?
  • Do they have coordination, focus, and control to help with aiming?

For proper hygiene, boys need to shake their penis after peeing to get rid of any drops.


For girls, demonstrating proper wiping techniques, such as wiping from front to back, helps prevent germs from spreading. Encouraging independence in personal hygiene is essential.

Creating a sensory-friendly and comfortable bathroom environment can enhance the toilet training experience for autistic children. Some tips to prime the environment include:

  • minimize distractions and sensory triggers
  • use soft, non-irritating toiletries and ensure that the toilet seat is comfortable
  • incorporate familiar objects or toys to make the bathroom a welcoming and reassuring space for the child

Autistic children may experience difficulties in recognizing and controlling bowel movements. Encouraging awareness of bodily cues and sensations that a child associates with the need to use the toilet can help them become more familiar with this feeling.

Parents or caregivers can offer regular bathroom breaks and monitor signs of discomfort or agitation that may indicate the need to relieve themselves. Using visual schedules or timers to remind the child of bathroom times can help encourage self-initiated visits.

Once a child is mostly dry during the day, they may be ready for night-time toilet training. Some tips for night-time toilet training include:

  • having a set bedtime routine
  • limiting the amount a child eats and drinks before bed
  • taking a child to the toilet before they go to bed
  • using products to protect bedding

Transitioning to toilet training in a school or day care setting requires collaboration between caregivers and educators. A parent or caregiver can communicate with school staff about the child’s needs, preferences, and strategies that have been effective in the home environment.

Some tips include:

  • showing a child where the toilets are
  • using the same routine as at home
  • teaching a child to shut the door, whether in all settings or only in certain situations

Transitioning to toilet training at school may be difficult, and having a range of absorbent pants or swimwear may be beneficial. Providing visual support or written instructions can facilitate consistency between home and school settings. It can also encourage open communication to ensure a supportive and accommodating environment for the child.

Autism is a lifelong condition, but various interventions can help people manage the challenges they may face.

Seeking support from healthcare professionals such as autism specialists, speech therapists, teachers, and psychologists can be invaluable in navigating the challenges of toilet training for autistic children.

Online resources, support groups, or communities can also provide valuable insights, guidance, and encouragement from other caregivers facing similar challenges.

Toilet training for autistic children requires patience, understanding, and a tailored approach that considers their needs and preferences. Caregivers can assist in toilet training by creating a supportive environment, establishing a routine, and using positive reinforcement.

Collaborating with healthcare professionals and seeking support from the autism community can provide valuable resources and guidance. With patience, consistency, and empathy, caregivers can empower autistic children to gain independence and confidence in reaching this important developmental milestone.