Autism and Potty Training
Our children are the future and, as parents, we want to do everything we can to ensure they grow up happy and healthy. However, ASD impacts more children than ever before. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in 68 kids in the United States are on the spectrum and this number appears to be increasing. If you have a child with autism, there are particular struggles you will likely encounter as you begin to potty train. Here are some tips that I hope will help you cope dealing with potty training.
As you begin the potty training process with autism, there are some common difficulties you can expect to encounter. Aside from your child having problems learning to use the toilet during the day and night, you can also expect to experience:
- Child not knowing when they need to use the toilet
- Difficulty in expressing the need to use the toilet
- Trouble getting to the toilet in a timely manner
- Difficulty adapting to using toilets outside of the home
- Trouble wiping
- Smearing feces
- Bedwetting and constipation
If you have experienced any or all of these issues, understand that you are not alone. Thousands of parents across the country are struggling with similar problems. However, there are unique ways in which to approach each problem to successfully help your child overcome and succeed.
While your child’s healthcare provider has likely prescribed medication to help keep their autism symptoms at bay, there are other approaches you can take as a parent that have may yield positive results. Making some special considerations in your child’s diet can help them overcome the common toilet issues associated with autism.
It has been proven that autism is highly influenced by nutritional deficiencies and not providing the body with proper magnesium has shown to cause symptoms such as poor sleep patterns, rocking the body, grinding teeth, hiccups, and inability to concentrate. Not surprisingly, many of these symptoms mirror those of children with autism. Introduce a magnesium supplement to your child’s diet, and you may notice they are more focused on when to use the toilet as well as able to adapt to using the restroom both during the day and night. My favorite one is Natural Calm. It’s easy to prepare and to get your kids to drink. You spoon some on the bottom of a teacup and pour hot water over it. Your kids will love to watch it fizz. After this initial fizzing, you can do whatever you want with it; drink it warm, cool it down, add a tea bag or some juice, whatever you want. I don’t like to give my kids sweet drinks but it’s worth it, to get some magnesium into them. My kids happen to like the plain flavor of Natural Calm warm in a teacup with fruit-flavored tea and a touch of raw, local honey.
As you begin to transition your child from the world of diapers to using the restroom like a big kid, the brain must adapt and begin to further develop and function. During this time, it is a great idea to provide them with fish oil of fatty acids. These acids help the brain further develop, and it can also reduce the amount of hyperactivity your child experiences, which can significantly interfere with the potty training process. When choosing a fish oil, nothing really comes close to Green Pastures Fermented Cod Liver Oil. This stuff is healing and nourishing, but unfortunately, it doesn’t taste great. I had to work my kids up to it slowly. It’s well known that ASD kids cannot or will not swallow capsules, so if you find a fish oil that’s a bit more palatable – try this Wild Salmon Oil from Vital Choice or this yummy Strawberry Cod Liver Oil from Childlife. You can open up the capsules easily by poking them with a needle and then just empty the contents into a spoon or mix it into something more palatable for your little one.
Melatonin and Epsom Salt Baths
Another common symptom children with autism suffer with is various sleep disorders. When they are trying to learn to potty train, disrupted sleep cycles can make it difficult for them to develop a reliable schedule, leading to an increase in accidents. Melatonin, when taken in regular doses, is known to help regulate the sleep cycle. Melatonin should preferably be given to a child under the watch of a naturopath or doctor. Once you’ve begun, monitor your child’s sleeping patterns. Over a period of a few weeks, you should be able to begin to notice a regular pattern, and you can help your child pick relevant times to visit the restroom prior to napping or going to bed for the night.
Another way to help regulate healthful sleep patterns is to give your child an Epsom salt bath about 30 minutes before bedtime. Also known as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salt allows the body to absorb magnesium as well as detoxify, and this has been proven to result in a calming effect that will further aid them during sleep.
Children with autism commonly experience the occurrence of large molecules passing through the lining of the intestine. This is known as leaky gut and can cause significant hindrances when it comes to potty training. Foods containing gluten are known to exacerbate the problem. I know it’s not easy when you’re just starting out – we’ve been gluten free for years now – but if you start out getting the (usually kind of junky, to be honest) gluten-free breads, cakes, and cookies at the supermarket, there is no shame in that. You can work your way slowly to making healthier gluten-free delicacies like this amazing bread or these yummy brownies. I’ve made both! They are awesome!
Helping Your Child Succeed
As I mentioned, lots of kids with autism can’t deal with swallowing capsules. There are a few tips to get them to take their supplements:
- Syringe the supplement into his mouth and follow up with something sweet
- Mix maple syrup or a 100% fruit juice concentrate into the spoon
- Sprinkle the supplement over food in small amounts throughout the day
- Mix it into a smoothie
- Teach them how to swallow supplements by starting slowly with a sprinkle, then a mini M&M, then a regular one
- Ignore how others kids are progressing. Don’t give yourself an unnecessary head and heartache by comparing, especially to neurotypical children.
- Start when your child is ready. Make sure he can pull his pants and underwear up and down.
- Everyone needs to be on board. This includes your spouse, older siblings, teachers, and therapists.
- Be consistent. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself, you need to remain consistent.
- Be patient. It may take months to have your child fully potty trained.
- Have a sense of humor and perspective. Keep lots of paper towels around!
Check out some of these books for further reading:
The last one is a really neat sticker reward chart!