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Special Needs Potty Training: Sensory Sensitivities


Potty training can be a challenging journey for most children! Children with special needs often experience more challenges when it comes to potty-training because they experience sensory sensitivities, physical barriers, and extra unique circumstances that can increase the amount of time that it takes to become successfully potty trained. We realize that there is a gap in the pool of helpful resources that are available for potty training throughout the special needs community. That is why we have partnered up

with several specialized professionals who have shared helpful tips and advice specifically for this important community!


Laura Petix, OT (www.theotbutterfly.com) is an occupational therapist for children who gave us some insight on how sensory sensitivities can cause extra challenges for a child who is being potty trained. She explained that a child’s ability to register the sensation of having to go potty, processing what that sensation means, communicating the need to use the potty, then executing potty in the toilet relies on so many sensory processing skills. And children who are sensory sensitive could have a myriad of factors that impact their ability to be potty trained.


Here are five of the most common sensory sensitivities:

  1. Hyper-sensitive to interoception: these children are often hyper-aware of internal sensations and might have many "false alarms" thinking they must go to the bathroom more often than they actually need to go.

  2. Hyper-sensitive to sounds: these children have an extreme (often fight or flight) response to the sound of running water or the toilet flushing, which can make the bathroom environment extremely stressful for them and making them want to avoid it at all costs.

  3. Hyper-sensitive to touch: Hyper-sensitive to touch: these children have an extreme (often fight or flight) response to feelings of texture or fabric or other touch to their skin that might make the feeling of toilet paper or other fabrics/garments associated with potty training uncomfortable for them.

  4. Hyper-sensitive to smells: these children have an extreme sense of smell and can often gag or have other big reactions to different smells in the bathroom.

  5. Increased anxiety: Increased anxiety: children who are sensory sensitive tend to be more anxious than other children. A major, life-changing transition like potty training can make sensory sensitive/anxious kids have a harder time processing it. 


Sarah Selznick, MS OTR/L (www.sensoryexplorers.com) is another seasoned pediatric occupational therapist who works with children and families to help them succeed in all areas of life. After speaking with Sarah, we learned some valuable tips for how to deal with sensory sensitivities while potty training.


Here are four helpful tips for kiddos with sensory sensitivities:

  1. Manage the environment. Reduce distractions and unpleasant stimuli (smells, lights, sounds) as much as possible.

  2. Add in positive sensory inputs. Together with your child, add smells, sounds, and pictures that are pleasing and relaxing to them! Make the bathroom a positive environment.

  3. Build the 8th sense – interoception. You can work on this through body scans and mindfulness practice.

  4. Encourage proper positioning. Make sure your child’s trunk and legs are well supported and that knees are above the hips. This is not only helpful for full release of a bowel movement – but secure hips and trunk will help reduce any gravitational insecurities, making your child feel more comfortable.


Ultimately, every child will experience their own strengths and challenges when it comes to potty training. When we empower and guide our children, and treat their unique needs and qualities with gentleness and respect, they will have greater opportunities of self-confidence, helping them to succeed on their potty training journey! For more information on special needs potty training, check out my other blog posts as well as my IGTV interviews with these experienced professionals.

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