Potty Training with SEN

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Potty Training teacher Amanda Jenner sits on a floor, with three small children around her.

Potty training expert Amanda Jenner discusses various tips and tricks to aid with potty training young children with SEN.

A lot of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) do not have the motivation to say they are ready start potty training, or have the understanding to follow their siblings or friends. This can be because they cannot fully communicate, understand or express their feelings, which can affect them showing signs of readiness to begin toilet training. As a parent with a child with learning delays, you will have to take the lead and start to observe and diarise the regular times that they are filling their nappy. 

It’s vital to implement a different approach. Keeping everything consistent is crucial, because routine is going to be the key to success. A great step towards potty training is using flashcards with your toddler for a couple of weeks before you start. Showing them a picture of what they have to do will help you communicate the message you want to send and the behaviour you would like to see. 

Colour plays an important factor here too. Through my many years of training children with learning delays, I’ve observed that they have a clearer understanding if everything is the same. Using the same colour for the potty or toilet trainer seat, pants and reward stars is something I have tested over the last few years with great success. It makes children feel safe and is less confusing. 

Things to be aware of

In the bathroom

From the start of potty training, let the child choose between a potty or a toilet trainer seat. This can change day to day at the beginning and until they discover what they like. Make sure you pick soft cotton pants and cut the label out as it can be distracting and irritating. In the bathroom, refrain from using highly scented cleaning products and try to avoid flushing the toilet straight away if your child is sensitive to loud noises. Create a warm and inviting environment in the bathroom. For example, put their name on the door and some flashcards around the bathroom, showing them what to do. Place a piece of toilet paper down the toilet before they use. This is to avoid the splash of cold water on their bottoms, as this can startle children and put them off using the toilet. 

While potty training

I often advice not to clap or cheer, as little ones can be sensitive to this. A big smile and a cuddle is just perfect. Use basic language like ‘It’s potty time’ or ‘It’s toilet time’ with a big smile. For children with non-verbal or speech delays introduce simple signs of a wee or a poo and you can teach them to hold it up when they need to go. Use a distraction to keep them sat on the potty/toilet that little bit longer.  Textured objects and stretchy toys have worked in my experience. Ensure you are only using these for potty/toilet time. 

Generally children with SEN can take longer to potty train and you may experience a number of accidents. Pick a flashcard that’s relevant to what they have done to show them where the wee and poo goes. Ensure you communicate with your childcare setting if you are not the only person caring for your child. Consistently is the biggest factor to succeed!

Find Amanda’s website here. For more articles about parenting, click here and here.

A photo of Amanda Jenner smiling into the camera. She has long brown hair and is wearing a white blouse and denim jacked
Amanda Jenner
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Amanda Jenner is the inventor of My Carry Potty and creator of the Potty Training Academy. She works closely with families, giving them guidance on toilet training and also tips and recipes to help with fussy eaters. She has also written a book about toilet training called 'Potty Training Magic'

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