Incontinence is a condition that affects over 35 million Americans of all ages. Dealing with incontinence can be difficult at any age, but helping a child with a disability, like autism, learn to manage incontinence can be especially challenging.
As a child, learning to use the bathroom is a normal part of development. And even in children who don’t have a physical, mental or emotional disability, the rate at which they develop this skill varies greatly. However, for some children with autism, other factors can play a part in how they learn to use the toilet. Autism is a spectrum disorder brought on by a dysfunction of the central nervous system. It is usually diagnosed in the first three years of life. Children with autism experience impairment of common social skills (making eye contact, interacting with other people or reading social cues), communication difficulties (delayed language development or complete lack of speech), and behavioral challenges (sterotyped and repetitive body movements, extreme attachment to routines, unusually intense or focused interests, and sensory sensitivities to environments including sounds, light, smells and textures.
When looking at these characteristics of autism, it’s easy to understand how some children with autism may have challenges when potty training or learning to remain continent.
Using The 5 Ps.
Incontinence may come in many forms, but there are some common ways to approach the situation. We call them ‘The 5 Ps,’ and they can help make treatment more tolerable for caregivers and contribute to a real opportunity for improvement:
Patience – We all know that patience is a virtue, but when it comes to incontinence, it’s often a virtue that’s hard to find. Try not to place blame for setbacks. Instead, provide positive encouragement and do your best to maintain a good sense of humor – it’ll pay off in so many ways.
Persistence – Progress may be slow, but don’t give up. Having a positive outlook and setting sensible goals can reduce frustration for everyone.
Planning – Incontinence is all about surprises, and they’re usually not pleasant ones! Take the time to schedule activities – even simple ones that you do around the house – and make sure to stick to that schedule. Communications planning is just as important – make sure that teachers, caregivers and anyone else who shares responsibility for the child knows what they need to know about the child’s situation and is able to take appropriate action if needed.
Practice – You never know what will work until you’ve tried it – and in most cases, that means trying and trying again. Test out different treatments, ask healthcare professionals for recommendations and see for yourself if there are certain products or programs that work for you.
Progress Is Possible – It may not always feel like you’re getting somewhere, but there are thousands and thousands of families who can tell you firsthand that the effort you make today really can turn into results down the road. It may not always be realistic to expect a cure, but there are things you can do – tactics, treatments and products – that can make your loved one much more comfortable and your life much easier.
It’s important to note that many children with autism have no problems with incontinence, and for those that do the severity of their condition can vary greatly. In addition, many children continue to develop over time and can improve their condition with the proper help and instruction from a caregiver.
For more help on addressing incontinence in children with disabilities, download our brochure, Incontinence Support For Children With Disabilities.