Potty Training a Disabled Child: Tips for a Stress-Free Experience

Image of a disabled young boy using crutches
Potty training a disabled child takes time and patience.

Potty training can be difficult for any child, but potty training disabled children can present other challenges. Communication, physical ability, and comprehension all play important roles in potty training.

When to Begin

The typical toddler can be potty trained somewhere between 18 and 36 months. Some children potty train earlier, while others may be ready later. Potty training disabled children, however, may need to wait until a child is much older than the toddler years, although this certainly isn't always the case. The signs of readiness for a disabled child, though, will be similar to the signals of any child who is ready to begin potty training.

  • Shows awareness of bodily functions.
  • Shows an interest in bodily functions and/or the toilet.
  • Exhibits discomfort from a soiled diaper.
  • Stays dry for extended periods of time, including nighttime.

In many cases, a disabled child may not have the ability to show some or all of these signs. If this is the case, you can begin trying to potty train your disabled child on your own. It is important, however, to have everyone who cares for your child on the same page. Caregivers, educators, relatives, and friends who care for your child should all work together with you during this process.

Where to Start

Because potty training disabled children can be frustrating and difficult for everyone involved, you should pay close attention to when you begin this process.

  • Choose a time when your child is rested, fed, and happy or content.
  • Introduce her to the potty, letting her touch it and even sit on it.
  • Create a schedule in which you take her to the potty periodically throughout the day, such as after eating and naptime.
  • Be sure everyone works together to take your child to the potty regularly throughout the day.
  • Use positive reinforcement, and make sure other caregivers do, also.
  • Choose a comfortable potty, and if your child is too big, use the toilet instead.
  • Be positive and upbeat, even when accidents occur.
  • Create a pleasant environment by placing favorite toys, books, etc. near the potty.
  • Teach good hygiene as well, by showing your child how to wash her hands.
  • If possible, let your child watch other siblings and even yourself use the potty.

Steps to Potty Train a Disabled Child

Sometimes the most difficult problems involve communication. If your child is unable to verbally communicate his or her need to use the potty, you'll need to come up with some other type of system. This may involve creating a hand signal, choosing an object to hold up, or selecting a photo that the child may point to. Everyone needs to be aware of this sign in order for this to work. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Patience is the key to potty training disabled children.
  • Keep it fun-sing songs, read books, keep special toys close by, give rewards, such as stickers, small toys, etc.
  • Accidents will happen, so make sure your child is treated with kindness and respect while he is being cleaned and changed. This should be done in a private area as well.
  • Older children who are able to stand up should not be made to lie down to be changed.
  • Use waterproof mattress covers.
  • Dress your child in easily accessible clothing.
  • Reinforce good behavior, and try to ignore negative behavior, such as smearing. (Smearing occurs when a child smears feces on himself. This is often done to attract attention or to express agitation. Sometimes, children simply like the feel of the feces.) Although you'll certainly have to clean up the mess, try to determine what the reason is for this behavior.

Resources and Support

Finally, seek out support from other parents and professionals. Search for materials regarding potty training disabled children, and join support groups. Check out the following Web sites for additional help.


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Potty Training a Disabled Child: Tips for a Stress-Free Experience