Potty Training a Child With Down Syndrome
My daughter is 4 years old and has Down Syndrome. Because she is special needs, her preschool does not require that she be potty trained, but I would like to start. Any tips for potty training a special needs child? --nikkidatri
If you are the parent of a child with developmental disabilities or with physical and/or sensory limitations, you already know that for your child to learn most skills, it's critical that the teaching be tailored to meet his or her unique needs and capabilities. The same holds true for potty training.
A special-needs child needs a potty training strategy designed just for his or her needs and level of ability and comprehension. There's not one general teaching strategy; but here are 6 general potty training guidelines, which have been culled from hundreds of parents of children with special needs to help get you started potty training a special needs child:
1. Be wary of advice. Parents who have successfully potty trained their child think that their way works best. But keep in mind that what worked for them may not work for you. Once you've developed the plan that you feel is best suited to your child, that's the plan you should follow consistently. Modify it when you must, but don't veer too far away from it. Otherwise you won't really have a plan at all. You'll just have a series of unconnected hunches. And I have yet to hear of any child who's followed the "hunch route" to success.
2. It's MORE than just potty training. Potty training isn't just one skill. In fact, it's almost a dozen skills, all performed in a correct sequence:
- Recognizing the need to go
- Waiting to eliminate
- Walking into the bathroom
- Pulling pants down
- Sitting on the toilet
- Eliminating in the toilet
- Using toilet paper correctly
- Pulling pants back up
- Flushing the toilet
- Washing hands
- Drying hands
3. Make sure your child is ready. There's a reason we don't try to potty train infants—it's physically impossible. Infants don't have the necessary muscle control. They simply aren't ready. Similarly, a special needs child, regardless of age, may not be ready if she can't perform 2 necessary skills:
- Following simple instructions ("Come here, Billy")
- Sitting in a chair for five minutes.
4. Find the potty pattern. As with all potty training, you need to determine your child's elimination pattern. When, is she most likely to wet or soil his pants? You can't officially start toilet training your child until you know the answer. Give yourself two weeks to keep a potty log. Simply check your child's diaper—every hour—and record what you find. Start when your child wakes up in the morning and stay with it throughout the day. Whenever you find that the diaper's wet or soiled (even a little), be sure to change it. This way you'll be certain about whether there's been any activity in the following hour, and your child will get more used to being dry. This is the pattern you'll use to determine your potty training schedule.
5. Don't distract your child. When your child is sitting on the toilet, she's there for a reason. And it's not to socialize. So while you certainly want to be encouraging, you don't want to be a distraction. Talk as little as you can. Be as matter of fact as you can. When your child's through—whether or not she's been successful—and you've left the bathroom, feel free to praise as much as you want. But while he's doing his job, be sure to do yours. And yours involves being as non-distracting as you can be.
6. Don't Give Up! Potty training a child with special needs is time consuming, labor intensive, repetitive, and often frustrating. But the end more than justifies the means! Whenever you can help your special-needs child become more independent, the benefits to him and to you are obvious. So stick with it! You might have to make little changes along the way, but don't give up. You can't imagine how proud and happy (and, pardon the pun, relieved) you'll feel when you eventually succeed.
For more detailed information on developing a specific approach to toilet training your child, I recommend the book Steps to Independence: Teaching Everyday Skills to Children with Special Needs.
p.s. You're not alone! You can search for other parents who are potty training their special-needs child on the Potty Training Message Board
Answered by: Alan Brightman, Ph.D., author of DisabilityLand, senior policy director of Special Communities for Yahoo! Inc., and founder, Worldwide Disability Solutions Group, Apple Computer.
For more potty training advice check out Potty Training Tips from the Potty Pro, Teri Crane.
Talk to other potty training parents who are also in the pee-pee & poo-poo trenches on our Toddlers & Preschoolers Message Board!