Parent's Guide for Toilet Training Special Needs Kids

Parenting: it's one of the hardest jobs out there. When it comes to raising kids with special needs, this job becomes even more challenging just as it becomes that much more crucial as well. Nowhere is this more obvious when it comes to toilet training kids; any child can face challenges with toilet training, but kids with special needs are especially poised to face difficulties that other children might not.

Special needs kids can face any number of challenges when it comes to toilet training. Children with special physical needs will encounter certain difficulties, just as other children with special developmental, behavioral, or emotional needs respectively. It often falls to parents of special needs kids to spearhead toilet training in a way that therapists cannot; because of the private nature of toilet training, and the importance of ensuring a child is both physically and emotionally ready for toilet training, the role parents play in this process is invaluable.

Assessment and Preparation

You cannot, of course, just dive right into toilet training. This is as true for a special needs child as one that does not have any special needs - you need to do your due diligence when it comes to the supplies and clothing you'll need for the physical act of toilet training. Perhaps even more importantly, you need to be armed with the specific knowledge needed to help toilet train a special needs kid according to the type of special needs they have.

This process begins with a trip to your child's health care provider. This offers an opportunity for your kid's doctor to examine them and make important determinations regarding whether they're ready to begin toilet training in the first place. This examination, plus any additional research you do subsequent to meeting with your child's doctor, will also place you on the path to determining what type of toilet training is going to work best for your kid's specific needs.

Helpful Tips and Suggestions

No guide on toilet training kids with special needs would be complete without a long list of helpful tips and suggestions. We've gathered the most useful here in order to help you accomplish your toilet training goals as easily as possible.

Create a Toilet Training Plan

As mentioned above, you can't just leap in with both feet when it comes to toilet training kids with special needs, or really any kids for that matter! You need to come up with a solid, step-by-step plan for introducing your child to the concepts of using the toilet, how the toilet and any necessary accessibility devices work, and then the actual mechanics of using the toilet themselves, first with help and then independently if possible according to their capabilities.

Communicate and Encourage

Now is not the time to shy away from the vicissitudes of bodily functions. You will need to communicate to your child as clearly and plainly as possible what's happening to their body when they use the toilet in order to encourage them to do so consistently.

As with everything you do with special needs kids, you'll need to exercise high levels of patience in the face of what may seem to you to be irrational fear, anger, or frustration over using the toilet. Keep in mind that these emotions, to a large degree, are to be expected. Weather them the best you can with clear communication and encouragement.

Use Appropriate Clothing, tools, and Supplies

No child will go from being in diapers to using the toilet flawlessly overnight. It's a process that requires the use of appropriate clothing and supplies. Transitioning kids into using the toilet often requires the use of a number of transitional steps, such as using pull-ups instead of tabbed diapers to simulate taking underwear on and off before using the toilet and keeping plenty of sanitary wipes around for cleaning up the inevitable accidents.

Other useful tools include potty training toilets, seats to adapt a full-size toilet to a child's body, and even accessibility tools like step-stools to make it easier for a child to climb onto an adult toilet seat. The specific special needs of your child will, of course, dictate which of these tools will be more useful than others.

Break Down the Steps of Toilet Training While You Teach

Toilet training, by definition, must be conducted slowly and methodically. This is just as true for kids with and without special needs - the act of using a toilet, after being in diapers literally all of their life, is a major change and one that simply can't happen all at once. That's why it's crucial that you break down every step of the toilet training process while you teach.

This begins with the transition from traditional diapers to pull-ups; explain, to the best of your child's ability to comprehend, why this change is happening and what it will lead to next. Proceed from each step to the next only when you're sure your child is ready to - work through these toilet training steps at their pace, not yours.

Reward Your Child For the Completion of Every Step

Toilet training is an arduous process for any child, and for special needs kids, it's often many magnitudes more challenging. Reinforcing your child's process along with the many steps it takes to successfully transition to using the toilet independently (or as independently as reasonably possible) requires you to praise and reward your kid every step of the way. Doing so provides a crucial sense of accomplishment for your child that will provide natural encouragement to continue to develop their ability to use the toilet on their own, driving them forward towards achieving the goal of mastering the next step, receiving even more praise, and getting yet another reward. You'll be hard-pressed to find a better motivating factor!

The Last Word on Toilet Training Your Special Needs Child

Raising kids is always a challenge - and caring for a child with special needs can often be just that much more difficult. The act of toilet training a special needs child can often represent one of the hardest tasks as a parent you'll face, depending on the type of special needs of your child.

It takes a combination of solid preparation and research into what specific strategies to employ, a clinician's understanding of what physical, emotional, or behavioral issues will be the most difficult to overcome, and the types of tools and supplies you'll need to see the toilet training process through.

You'll also need to face the entire process with high levels of patience and good humor throughout each and every step, letting your child set the pace, praising their performance, and rewarding them well with every step closer to the final goal. Soon, you'll have a child that can use the toilet to the best of their abilities, whatever that may be.


American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012, February 8). Toilet Training Children with Special Needs. HealthyChildren.Org.

Aponte, C., & Mruzek, D. (2016, February 12). Seven toilet training tips that help nonverbal kids with autism. Autism Speaks.

Crouch, L. (2018, January 22). Toilet Training for Children with Special Needs. Spectrum360.

Maher, N. (2019, August 5). Toilet Training Guide for Young Children with Special Needs. New York Center for Infant & Toddlers

McCune, D. (2012, July). Toilet Training Children with Special Needs. WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities.