Sensory Processing Issues And Toilet Training Your Toddler: The Overview

Toilet training is never fun.  At it’s best, a sweetly cooperative child quickly connects urges with actions, and parents deal with an occasional accident.  In a few short weeks or months, you feel free to go anywhere without extra clothes, creme, wipes and diapers. Not when a child has difficulty processing sensory information.  Sensory processing difficulties do not prevent toilet training; they just make the training process much more complex.  The solution is to know what the typical toilet training strategies are, identify where your child needs more support, and create an environment that supports your unique toddler. Sound familiar?  If you have a child with SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder) or who has sensory processing issues related to developmental delays such as Down syndrome or Autistic Spectrum Disorder, your life is a series of these compromises and adjustments.

First things first:  know what the typical learning pattern looks like, so that your expectations can be reasonable.  “The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems ” is my best resource book for a road map of toilet training through the whole toddler period.  I don’t know too many young toddlers with SPD that have finished training as early as her target age period, but it is helpful to know what she thinks signals readiness.  She also gives excellent studies of training gone wrong, with solutions, so that you feel that both of you can follow any mistakes with eventual success.

Secondly, you need to understand how your child’s sensory issues impact his learning.  Children with poor discrimination and relative insensitivity simply will not register the subtle physical sensations inside their bladder or the wetness in their diaper as strongly as other children.  They truthfully tell you they don’t have (any awareness of the need) to go.  Children who are very sensitive to touch may be very upset at being soiled and could find soggy or loose training pants very unsettling.  They may withhold just to avoid that sensation ever again.  Toddlers with poor postural control may be scared or even actually be unsafe on a loose seat placed over a standard toilet.  How could an adult  “let it go” after climbing up to a 4 foot high seat without no foot support and nothing but a removable ring to grip?  Poor modulators can get overwhelmed with the excitement of success, and poor auditory processing renders encouragement as confusing and stimulating but not instructive. Use all the techniques that have helped your child in the past.  Routines that create calmness, familiarity, and comfort, deep pressure or vestibular activities to stay alert and focused, and techniques that increase their general body awareness will help.  Develop a vocabulary around toileting so that they can explain their experience and can understand what your goals are. And timing.  Toddlers that are tired, agitated, or hungry are your worst students.  Toddlers that have had major scheduling or caregiver changes are stressed already.  Life is complex; you may have to create a calmer and more focused period to start training.

Next Blog Entry:  Specific Toilet Training Strategies for the Toddler with Autism and/or Sensory Issues

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