Potty training a toddler is never an easy task, but potty training a child with Sensory Processing Disorder can be a nightmare for parents. Since inconsistency is the only constant in Sensory Processing Disorder each child with SPD can have problems toilet training for different reasons.
As with neuro-typical children, it’s important to make sure your child is ready to potty train. General signs of potty training readiness include:
Staying dry for two or more hours
Willing to sit on the toilet
Able to follow simple directions
Able to take off pants and put them back on
SPD kids with a sensitivity to smells may find the smell of a dirty diaper overwhelming. They may even find the smell of the bathroom overwhelming by associating it with the smell of a bowel movement. Aromatherapy sprays may help if your child doesn’t find them overwhelming as well.
Low muscle tone and poor coordination can make it harder for a child to sit on the toilet or even the process of undressing and getting dressed again. If this is the case, try offering a little more help and reassurance that your child will soon be able to do this himself.
Sensory seekers might even enjoy the feeling of being dirty. The extra sensation of a wet or dirty diaper might actually be calming to a child that needs extra tactile stimulation.
Along with the five senses that we commonly think of, there is also the interoceptive sense. The interoceptive sense regulates input from the heart, lungs, bowel, bladder and also helps a person control heart rate, respiration, temperature, mood, and digestion. When a child with Sensory Processing Disorder has problems regulating their interoceptive sense it can and will affect the bowels and bladder. These children may not even sense they need to void or eliminate and if they do gain that sense they may not be physically able to do anything about it.
As you can well imagine, these factors, among others, can make for a very frustrated toddler! The child may be shamed or embarrassed because they just can not feel when they need to get to the toilet nor can they feel that they have gone in their diaper or underwear.
To help your SPD child learn to toilet train use a lot positive reinforcement and avoid all punishment. Remember not to criticize or shame the child because it’s very possibly they may not even feel the sensation to go to the toilet.
If you child doesn’t mind being in a wet or dirty diaper, don’t bother with disposable training pants. They are just as absorbent as a diaper and won’t be very effective for potty training.
If your child is sensitive to touch, make sure the toilet seat will be comfortable. You might need a padded seat. Toilet paper can be too harsh and moist flushable wipes might be a better alternative. Underwear seams can be irritating to a child with SPD so you may need to try a few different kinds.
If your child can’t sense when he or she needs to go, it might be best to start a schedule. Place your child on the potty in the morning, an hour or two after breakfast, before nap, after nap, after dinner and before bedtime. Your potty schedule will depend on your child’s needs and personal schedule.
As with neuro-typical children, patience is the key to getting your child toilet trained. Remember to use a lot of encouragement and let your child know that it will happen and you’ll be there to support him along the journey.