toilet training teenager special needs
Parenting Issues Promoting Independence

Toilet Training Our Special Needs Teenager


Toilet Training Our Special Needs Teenager

Last year my husband and I gained custody of a nonverbal teenager with severe developmental disability. At the time she came to live with us, our daughter was seventeen years old and had never been toilet trained. In fact, she lived in a rural area and just squatted on the ground, or the floor, wherever she happened to be when she felt the need to go.

Toilet training her has been a matter of trial and error. We didn’t know what she was, or was not, capable of; but, we decided to try our best to teach her what we expected her to do, and reassess along the way if things weren’t working out well.

First of all, I started by demonstrating to our new daughter how the toilet worked. I would take her to the bathroom with me, the same as I would do if potty training a toddler. I let her observe me, and I told her repeatedly, “This is where the good girls pee!” It was impossible to know how much she understood, but she would smile when I said it, so I kept it up..

We did not use a reward system to teach this child to use the toilet. For one thing, because of her age and maturity, she would go to the toilet and use it without my knowledge. This made it hard to reward her consistently.

Maybe if we had used a reward system, we would have had faster (or better) success. I’m just not that good at implementing reward systems. I applaud parents who can do it; it’s just very hard for me to be Johnny on the Spot (or Jane on the Spot) with that M&M or whatever.

Toilet Training Success: A Guide for Teaching Individuals with Developmental Disablities

If you are someone who likes reward systems, or simply would like to try a new approach to toilet training a special needs teenager, then you can try Toilet Training Success: A Guide for Teaching Individuals with Developmental Disabilities by Dr. Frank Cicero. This is book takes an Applied Behavioral Analysis approach to toilet training kids with special needs, and is a terrific resource for anyone who is working on this often-challenging task.

Toilet Training Success: A Guide for Teaching Individuals with Developmental DisabilitiesToilet Training Success: A Guide for Teaching Individuals with Developmental Disabilities


What Else Worked for Us

Success when toilet training special needs teenager!

We also did not punish her. Instead, we shook our heads and said no, and then took her to the toilet and made her sit. I wasn’t sure whether her accidents were due to her disability, and I didn’t want to punish her for something she couldn’t help. I was pretty sure she wasn’t doing it to be bad; she just didn’t know what else to do.

We did take her to the toilet every two hours, and when she started school, they put her on a similar toileting schedule. Being consistent is very important, so it was essential that the school was willing to take the same approach. Fortunately, they were, and it has made a big difference.

It took about six months before our daughter stopped defecating in places we didn’t want her to go. We would tell her no, take her to the toilet, let her watch us clean up and put the feces in the toilet. It took a lot of patience and perseverance, but one day I realized it had been weeks since we had had a bowel accident.

We have had more problems with urination. Sometimes she will go on the toilet, but just as often she will wet her pants. Now we have an appointment with a urologist to see if they can determine whether or not she has a medical problem that is preventing her from having good bladder control.

In the meantime, we use special needs adult diapers.  We tried panties for a while, but it was stressful for everyone. I remembered going to a training years ago where they told us if your disabled child doesn’t learn to use the toilet, don’t stress about it, just put diapers on them. So that’s what I did.

You can read about our experience with diapers for older kids with special needs in an upcoming blog post.


Do you have challenges in toilet training your special needs teenager? Would you like some help? Please ask, and let us see if we can offer some helpful suggestions!

Have you had success in toilet training a teen with special needs? Do you have any tips to add?

toilet training special needs teenager
toilet training special needs teenager


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