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
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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