Category Archives: Toilet Training

Tips for Helping Your Child with Sensory Problems

Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues is one of Theraconcepts’ favorite books on sensory processing. You can preview the contents of the book by visiting Quoted below are some sensory smart parenting tips by Lindsey Biel, OTR/L and Nancy Peske.


  • To desensitize gums, provide tactile input. Wear a rubber finger cot, swipe with a washcloth, or use an Infadent finger cot or Toothettes (both available from Achievement Products for Children (800-373-4699)

  • If your child can’t tolerate foamy toothpaste, try Orajel toddler toothpaste, which does not foam.

  • Develop a predictable routine for when and how to brush. Help your child choose the brushing pattern which will always be used. For example, she could decide to always start with the top teeth and to brush from left to right, front to back. A consistent brushing pattern will help your child motor plan this complex activity, learn to predict when and where she will feel various sensations (rather than be a “victim” of horrible sensations), and help your child feel proud about keeping her mouth and teeth nice and clean.


  • If your child doesn’t like “slimy” soap or shampoo, try foamy soap (also good for tactile play—unlike shaving cream, it doesn’t have a strong smell).

  • Try using a large container of water for rinsing since the extra weight of the water might feel soothing. Alternately, your child might be more comfortable if he simply feels in control of the water. In this case, provide a sprinkling can (beach or garden toy) or a hand-held shower attachment. Count down together to rinsing: “1, 2, 3, rinse.”

  • Use a foam visor or a washrag held over the face when rinsing. This is good for a child who hates water on his face or who hates tilting his head back for rinsing. You might also have him dry his face immediately after washing it even if he’s still in the shower or bath.

  • If toweling dry is a problem, experiment with softer (or harder) towel textures. You can also try pre-warming the towel in the dryer for a few minutes.

Going to Bed

  • Make sure the room is dark enough (or light enough) for your child to sleep. A small amount of light might comfort one child, while light creeping in through the curtains or under the door might disturb another.

  • Try a white noise machine, fan, aquarium, or even a radio set on static to create white noise to block out sleep-disturbing sounds. Some children fall asleep more easily listening to gentle music such as Mozart or CDs specifically designed to promote sleep. Check out Baby Go to Sleep (800-841-4248) or Hemi-Sync sleep CDs available at Hemi-Sync (800-541-2488). Select “Sleep” from the dropdown list.

  • Give calming deep pressure input via a backrub or massage using long, firm strokes. Even just squeezing feet, legs, hands, and arms, can be very soothing at bedtime. You can also try using a weighted blanket (available from companies such as Southpaw Enterprises and Abilitations.

Getting a Haircut

  • Use the word “trim” instead of “cut.”

  • Visit the hair salon to simply check it out and watch other children get their hair trimmed. Familiar places are less scary.

  • Massage your child’s scalp before a haircut using your hands, handheld vibrator, or vibrating hairbrush (available from Abilitations).

  • Many children dislike the plastic cape with its scratchy closure. Instead use a soft towel and clip or an oversized shirt.

  • Go to a child-friendly haircutting salon or create your own at home with candy and an absorbing video to watch.

  • Have the barber or stylist give the child a big soft brush or a dry washrag with baby powder on it to brush off stray hair as it is cut. Use baby powder on irritated skin afterward.


  • Some tactile-defensive kids insist on supersoft, all-cotton clothing. Many parents swear by the all-cotton clothing made by Land’s End and Hanna Andersson (Check their overstocks, check ebay for auctions on used children’s clothing, and visit your local consignment stores and thrift shops (think: pre-worn = pre-softened).

  • Some children are more comfortable wearing snug clothing or tight clothing worn beneath their other clothes. Try bicycle shorts, tights, “too small” t-shirts, etc.

  • When buying clothes for a tactile-sensitive child, avoid scratchy nylon threads and items made of polyester blends which can pill and cause discomfort.

  • Buy seamless socks from places like


  • Avoid shopping during peak hours when stores are most crowded and noisy.

  • Let your child push the grocery cart for sensory input. Many grocery stores have junior carts for smaller children. Also, pushing a stroller can help a toddler or preschooler get calming input. Add packages for extra weight.

  • Give your child some control and a sense of predictability. Young children can help find groceries on the shelf, match groceries to a picture list, or follow a picture list of chores you will be doing that day. Older kids can help you write lists, find items, pull out coupons, or check items off your to-do list.

Potty Training

  • Some children are disturbed by the size and feel of a large toilet seat. Bring your child to the store and help her to pick out a potty chair or a small, cushioned vinyl ring that fits onto an adult toilet seat.

  • Some children are frightening by the sound of flushing. A sense of control might help: together, count off to the flush, for example: “1, 2, 3, FLUSH!” Make lots of noise as the toilet is flushing, shouting “hooray!”

  • Sometimes, tight clothes provide sensory input that distracts a child from the sensation of needing to use the potty. Loose clothing such as boxer shorts may help him recognize when he has the urge to go

Related article: Ouch! Sensory Integration and Haircuts

Toilet Training Tips

Independent functioning in toilet use is an important adaptive skill. This involves toilet training and self-care in toilet. Here are important toilet training tips as well as information on toilet training for children with special needs.

Potty quiz by

Potty training Children with Special Needs by Dr. Vincent Iannelli.

While parents often complain of difficulty potty training their children, for most families, potty training is a fairly easy experience. Even when there are problems or children show signs of potty training resistance, usually they will eventually become potty trained.

However, this is not always the case for children with developmental delays or disabilities, such as autism, Down syndrome, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, etc. Children with special needs can be more difficult to potty train.

Most children show signs of physical readiness to begin using the toilet as toddlers, usually between 18 months and 3 years of age, but not all children have the intellectual and/or psychological readiness to be potty trained at this age. It is more important to keep your child’s developmental level, and not his chronological age in mind when you are considering starting potty training.

Read more

TEACCH consultants are often asked for suggestions for successful toilet training. TEACCH – Toilet Training for children with autism is a compilation of several experienced teachers’ and consultants’ suggestions about this area of programming. Here are some excerpts. It is highly recommended that one reads the whole article so as not to miss valuable information TEACCH has presented.

How might the characteristics of autism contribute to a child’s difficulty in learning to independently use the toilet?

  1. The child’s difficulty with understanding and enjoying reciprocal social relationships would certainly interfere with this process. While other 2- or 3-year-olds might be proud of their “big boy pants” and might be happy to please their parents, this type of motivation is rare in a child with autism.
  2. Given the characteristic difficulties in understanding language or imitating models, a child with autism may not understand what is being expected of him in the toilet.
  3. A child with autism typically has significant difficulty organizing and sequencing information and with attending to relevant information consistently. Therefore following all the steps required in toileting and staying focused on what the task is all about are big challenges.
  4. Further, the child’s difficulty in accepting changes in his routines also makes toileting a difficult skill to master. From the child’s point of view, where is the pressing need to change the familiar routine of wearing and changing a diaper? After 3, or 4, or 6 years of going in the diaper, this routine is very strongly established.
  5. A child with autism may also have difficulty integrating sensory information and establishing the relationship between body sensations and everyday functional activities. Therefore he may not know how to “read” the body cues that tell him he needs to use the toilet. He may also be overly involved in the sensory stimulation of the “product”— smearing feces is not uncommon in young children with autism. The child may also be overwhelmed by the sensory environment of the toilet, with loud flushing noises, echoes, rushing water, and a chair with a big hole in it right over this water! A further consideration is that the removal of clothing for toileting may trigger exaggerated responses to the change in temperature and the tactile feeling of clothes on versus clothes off.

One may also read the articles on The Best Practices (Newsletter of The Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental & Learning Disorders) Vol. 7 No. 2.

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