Potty Training Tips from Special Needs Kids Parents

Photo Credits: Darren

Photo Credits: Darren

Potty training can be daunting for any parent, but teaching children with cerebral palsy can bring other complications due to lack of muscle coordination; shaky or spastic movements; being non-verbal; and any other developmental delays that your child may experience. However, don’t let that discourage you from trying to set up a potty training routine for your child. Every child is unique and, depending on their circumstances, will reach this milestone at different times. We asked two mothers from the LIFE program what their experience in potty training their daughters was like and here are some of the things they had to say:


-Amanda, Maggie’s mom:

When did you start training her? “I started training her when she was 3.5 years old and the only reason why I didn’t try sooner was because she has CP and I had no idea what Maggie’s muscle control would be like. She has more of a loose tone predominantly and I was worried that she wouldn’t have any control.”


What was your potty training process like? “When we started, I put Maggie straight into underwear. I would advise using pull-ups for bedtimes and naptimes and once they start waking up in their diapers dry a few times, then they’re ready to be just in their underwear all the time.”

I used to take her to the potty every 30 minutes and just sat her on it and let her know it was time to go. If she went pee or poo, she got a reward (i.e. snacks, toys, praise, more TV time; anything that motivates your kid). She would have accidents in between, but I would just change her underwear and try again. Staying consistent is important. Once your child starts understanding the feeling of needing to ‘go,’ they can hold it for longer. Eventually she recognized when she needed to go and I slowly lengthened the time in between potty trips. You start to ‘feel’ out when they need to go and you can determine how often you need to take your child to the potty. “


How long did it take? “I thought it would take a long time before Maggie would be fully potty trained, but it only took her 1-2 weeks! Of course, every child is going to be different and this won’t be everyone’s experience.”


Any other tips you can give parents? “I’m still on the fence about having to wait for your kid to be “ready” before you start potty training, but you also don’t want them to be really scared and super fearful. You never want to make potty time scary. Also, I can’t emphasize enough, REWARD SYSTEM.”



Maggie, diagnosed with athetoid CP, working on gaining proper function with her mom at the LIFE program.


-Hayley, Poppy’s mom:

When did you start training her? “I tried training Poppy after she turned 3, but she didn’t seem really interested even when I’d put her on the potty. So I left it for about 3 months, and tried it again when we came to the LIFE program because I knew there would be more time. It’s important to do it when you have a week or two freed up that you can devote to potty training.”


What was your potty training process like? “I kept being persistent and putting her on the potty. I found that she actually liked going more on the big toilet and gave her prizes and would make a big deal out of it whenever she went poo or pee. She loves princesses, so I put her in princess pull-ups and would always tell her she was a big girl. Once we got home to the UK from the LIFE program, I took Poppy out of her nappies completely except for nighttime. I used to take 2-3 changes of clothes with me whenever we went out (sometimes she had 3-4 accidents in a day), but I would just tell her ‘no’ every time that it happened. She didn’t like being wet and eventually stopped having accidents. It helps that we bought her some nice Disney princess pants that she didn’t want to ruin!”


Did you have any concerns? “I was worried because Poppy can’t speak too well (she can only say a few words), so if children can’t speak, how can they tell you when they need to go? But eventually she was able to find her own way of telling us. She couldn’t say ‘wee wee’, but was able to say ‘poo’. So she just says ‘poo’ whenever she needs to go the potty.”


How long did it take? “I was prepared for it to take the whole summer, but just 2 weeks!”


Any last tips for parents? “Reward system and it’s best to put them straight into underwear.”



Poppy, diagnosed with CP, giving a sweet smile for the camera during her LIFE program session.


For more diaper care & potty training tips, check out our other article here! Please share any other potty training tips you may have in the comments below! And please don’t forget to share this with your friends and family! :)


About the author

Natan Gendelman has written 135 articles for Enabled Kids.

Natan Gendelman is licensed as a physical therapist in Russia and Israel. After moving to Canada, he was certified as a kinesiologist and osteopathy manual practitioner. Natan has more than 20 years of experience providing rehabilitation and treatment for conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, pediatric stroke and acquired brain injury. He is the founder and director of Health in Motion Rehabilitation, a Toronto-based clinic whose main objective is to teach their patients the independence necessary for success in their daily lives.

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