Potty Training Belt for ASD




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Autism Spectrum Disorder is a structural brain difference with a strong genetic component.

People on the autism spectrum tend to have difficulty with proprioception (body awareness).  Potty training can be especially difficult for kids on the spectrum.  Sometimes they have a hard time paying attention to their bladder until it's too late.  I remember reading an article that contained an interview with an adult who was severely autistic, but who was able to communicate through typing.  He was recalling his childhood when his mother would call to him from another room, and he just couldn't remember where his legs were or how to start walking.  It wasn't until she came into the room and yelled at him to stand up that suddenly he remembered how to move his legs, stand up, and walk.

Because of my background as a massage therapist, I'm aware that touch can help improve and change proprioception.  My three year old son gets wrapped up in playing and doesn't want to stop in order to use the bathroom.  I suspect that sometimes he forgets that he even has a bladder until suddenly his clothes are soiled.  I set about making something that would help remind him during the potty training process.

This belt doesn't potty train.  It's meant to help potty training in a child with proprioceptive difficulties.

Step 1: Materials

Small vibrating alarm or timer
Ace bandage
Stretchy cotton or other material

My husband was originally going to make the vibrating device using a pager motor and some other components, but he's been really busy with work.

I found a keychain sized vibrating alarm on Amazon for $10, which is excellent for this project.

I used a stretchy Ace bandage with velcro to make it easier to put on and take off, and I used a scrap of stretchy cotton for the pocket.

Step 2: Make Waistband

Wrap the bandage around the child's waist.  You want it to stretch some, but not be too tight.  Cut off the excess.

Finish the cut edge; I simply folded it over and sewed it.

Kids on the autism spectrum tend to have sensory issues, and a scratchy waistband would be unbearable to some of them.  Make sure that the velcro closure is on the outside so no edges touch the skin.

Stretch the waistband around a book to keep it somewhat taut for the next step.

Step 3: Add the Pocket

If I were to use a single flap pocket for the alarm, it could easily fall out.  I didn't want any snaps, buttons, zippers, or anything else to add bulk to the belt.

Cut two pieces of stretchy fabric.  The first should be bigger than the alarm all the way around so that it can cover it completely when sewn to the belt.  The second should be less wide than the alarm so that it covers half of it when sewn to the belt.

Finish one short side of each piece of fabric.  Starting with the bigger piece, sew the remaining three edges to the belt, making sure to stretch the fabric slightly with the belt.  Check placement by sliding the alarm into the pocket, making sure it still fits without being too tight or loose.

Place the remaining fabric over the pocket so the finished edge overlaps it and the unfinished edges are on the outside.  Sew the unfinished edges to the belt.  When the pocket is completely finished, you should be able to pull back the outer lip of the pocket, slide the alarm in, and pull the edges of the pocket back into place so they'll completely cover the alarm.

Step 4: Use the Belt in Potty Training

There are lots of instructions online for potty training kids on the autism spectrum.  These will be brief.

Try to estimate the amount of time that can elapse before the child needs to use the bathroom and set the alarm to go off 5 minutes before that.  You can always adjust the alarm later if it's too much or too little time.  I suggest using plastic training pants over your child's underwear if you want to minimize laundry during this time.

Fasten the belt around the child's abdomen with the alarm over the bladder.  The alarm should be small and low profile enough that he can still wear his pants over it.

Let the child have lots of liquids, especially his favorite type.  If the alarm you bought doesn't have an audible alarm, set your own so you'll know when the belt will go off.  When it does, take the child to the potty chair, have him sit down, and praise him for sitting there.  Rewards are a personal thing; use what works for you.

Consistency is especially crucial for kids on the spectrum.  It's terribly confusing to them if you keep going back and forth from diapers to underwear.  Potty training unique children can be challenging and require a heap of patience, but it will pay off.  Hang in there.

If you're worried about the alarm getting wet, put it in a small ziplock bag before sliding it into the belt pocket.  After the child uses the potty, reset the alarm, wash hands, and repeat.  Good luck and thanks for reading!

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    12 Discussions


    3 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you so much for this instructable. Really appreciate it.

    I thought I should post an update.

    I only tried this on him for a four hours one day because he wouldn't open the bathroom door by himself or pull down his pants (unless he was alone and wanted to run around naked). We've got a lot going on, but I was planning on actually doing potty training after our heart baby's next heart catheterization. I did want to make sure the device worked.

    Maybe I got lucky, but now he'll grab my hand sometimes and lead me to the bathroom so I can open the door, help him take off his pants and diaper, and then he'll use the potty chair. I really believe that physical communication works a whole lot better in this situation with his specific brain than verbal (or even visual) ever would.

    Now to just find the alarm again... one of his younger twin sisters loves mechanical devices and ran off with it somewhere... *sigh*

    She also unlocked my iphone and moved all her favorite games out of their folders so she'd have to do one less step when she opens them up to play with them. She's 21 months old... won't talk, but knows my iphone better than i do. :(

    5 replies

    Kind of random and unrelated, but the reason adults are always (myself included!) flabbergasted at how well small children can use new smart technology (my 18 month old nephew is a wiz on my brother's iPad), it's because how touch tablets are set up to be used, the interface is much more humanly intuitive than the previous computers we're used to.

    When computers were first invented, they were used to talk to other computers, to do calculations and such, and the human interfacing with them was fairly minimal. So it made sense to set up computer interfaces that made it easier for computers to talk to one another, vs. an interface that was more natural and intuitive for us to talk to them.

    As a result, the computer to computer interface evolved into the standard, and it's what we learned. Now, with touch screen technology, programmers are developing interactive interfaces that are much more intuitive to how we interact w/ the normal world. However, because we've been trained to use computer to computer interfaces, it doesn't seem as natural to us at first. However, because toddlers have never used those kind of interfaces, they're much more adept at these much more "natural" and inherently intuitive ones.

    The point of all this being, don't feel bad about not being able to beat your baby girl on your iphone! =)

    Oh, I don't feel bad because I'm not as good... the frown was because she deleted my authenticator (it wasn't one of her favorite games), turned off all my alarms, changed the alarm sounds, moved her favorite games out of the folders so they're easier to open, deleted photos she didn't like (only pictures that didn't include her, oddly), changed my icons around, renamed folders...

    and I foresee a lot more extra hassle down the road because she's clever enough to get into stuff.

    Smart kids make extra work for tired moms.


    Wow. I can't help but giggle... she sounds like a handful, but not in a bad way! It reminds me of something by best friend from college said. Once her twins got old enough to start getting into things, she told me she's scared because they're smarter than she is, and she dreads the day they figure this out!

    You sound like you're doing an excellent job with your kids. Thanks so much for sharing what works for you. I'm going to pass this information on to a friend of mine who has a son on the autism spectrum. She has a blog that I think your instructables could fit well with.

    Good luck!


    My older son used to do the same thing when he was younger, mostly when he wanted to pee. Eventually he learned how to use the bathroom properly (almost), he's still have some problems with #2 and still doesn't talk, he's 5 y.o. And oh my God, the colored wall! Just like my kid.

    Anyway, it's a great idea! :)


    8 years ago on Introduction

    I have to wonder if this would help me. I was in a coma this past summer and since then I have not been able to tell I have to pee until it is too late. I will give this a try.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    You have no idea how much this little idea would help people caring for a child that needs a bit of extra guidance, patience and help - good for you for posting it....and THANKS


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Frankly, I could use one of these. To remind me of so many things I get too busy to remember to take care of during the day. For a while in grad school there was a rash of bladder infections because we girls wouldn't take the time to stop our work to use the bathroom. . . Yeah, we finally caught on.