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Ask the Pediatrician

Dr. Jennifer Shu and her team of pediatricians answer your health questions.

Dr. Jennifer Shu

Question & Answer

Question

How can I tell if my 3-yr-old son with delayed speech is ready for potty training?

Answer

The issue of when and how to begin toilet training can be particularly challenging for parents of children with special needs. While no parent wants to push an already challenged child to perform in ways that are impossible, the sense of accomplishment experienced when he does succeed in this important aspect of self-care can make an enormous difference in his level of self-esteem.

Perhaps more than other parents, those who have children with physical, mental, or developmental disabilities can appreciate the toilet-training process as a way to follow and celebrate a child’s overall growth. Rather than focusing on their child’s mistakes, which are inevitable in any case, they can use this opportunity to discover how he learns best and to demonstrate to him that he is able to progress.

Toilet training works best when parents of children with special needs have access to the guidance, instruction, and encouragement of their pediatrician, other trained professionals, or support groups. The first step you must take is to determine whether your child is ready to begin. Signs of readiness are the same for your child as for all children:

  • Is your child aware of the difference between being wet and being dry? 
  • Can he stay dry for at least two hours at a time? 
  • Can he sense when he needs to urinate or have a bowel movement, and is he capable of reaching the toilet or potty in time (perhaps with your help)?
  • Can he undress and dress himself or is he ready to learn?
    Is he motivated at some level to take this next step?

If your child is in a resistant phase, is not ready to take on a new challenge, or does not yet feel the urge to behave “like other kids” in this way, you might take some extra time to prepare him mentally before starting the training process.