Don’t Judge Me: On Potty Training an Autistic Child

Don’t Judge Me: On Potty Training an Autistic Child

christmas coopersnapshot

Beth’s son Cooper

Written by Beth Clay

I spent my morning yesterday looking for coupons for the adult diapers that I buy for my 15-year old son. 

He was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months. His entire life has been, and continues to be, an adventure; a multi-faceted, multi-layered, bumpy road, roller coaster-esque, joy-filled and sometimes heartache-filled adventure. But at the age of fifteen, my son still wears adult diapers at night. 

We started seeing a doctor who specialized in autism when Cooper was about four. He was wearing pull-ups full time, with no inclination toward letting them go.  One of the first questions that my husband asked the doctor was when Cooper would be potty trained.  

The doctor peered over her glasses and said, “Typically, around the age of 7.″ And she moved right along.  

I think we were both a little stunned and, to be honest, disappointed.    

There are times when we feel confident about our parenting. There are also times when we feel vulnerable, like we have failed. We definitely were not feeling confident after that visit.

One of the biggest obstacles that any parent faces is potty training. It was for us too, only more so because it never ended. It is ongoing. 

Potty training is hard, and it can be embarrassing to have an older child still in pull-ups. It’s embarrassing because you know that other parents are judging you. 

You know they are looking at your big boy as you are trying to hoist him up onto that bathroom changing table, where his feet will hang off and you pray the whole time that the thing doesn’t break. You’re in a sweat, cursing your husband because he never takes your child to the bathroom. 

It’s right about this time you catch someone out of the corner of your eye, and you know they are watching you and thinking “If they would just…”.

I find myself thinking, “If I would just what? I have tried. I have tried everything that I know to do, and it doesn’t work.”  

Sometimes you find yourself standing in a public restroom attempting to change your large child and you are paralyzed with fear, with guilt, and with the judgment of others. That is the trifecta of immobilizing power strong enough to bring down a bull moose.

But what hurts the most isn’t the judgment from other parents. It’s knowing that this is just one more thing that you can’t fix, you can’t help your child with, and that you can’t take away.

This isn’t what any parent wants: a child with a disability that results in a life time of diaper changes. But it is what many of us live with though. 

We adjust. We adapt. We survive.

 I still have hope. However, I also know that if he wears the diapers forever, we will make it through. 

So when you walk into a restroom and see a mother doing the best she can to adjust and adapt, just smile and say hi. If you can– if it doesn’t feel too weird– you could even offer to help. She will probably politely refuse, because mothers like us are not often used to help. 

But I can promise you that her heart is smiling.


Beth Clay profile pic About the Author: Beth Clay is currently living in a small town in Arkansas with her husband, four of their five children and their dog Fatcake. She is the mother of one incredible teenage boy, born right in the middle of four girls and diagnosed with Autism at the age of 18 months. She writes about living their lives with Autism at Speaking in Grace.




  1. Lynne Streeter Childress

    Thank you. Thanks for sharing your heart.

  2. Audrey

    The best thing women can do for each other is stop judging. Seriously, we hold each other back more than any man every could.

    It only takes one raised eye brow or look of disdain to set us back to a mental fetal position.

    And luckily, it only takes one smile or other sign of support to make our day….

  3. Jacqui

    Thank you, Beth, for sharing this. I agree with Audrey, we all need to stop judging. Ourselves, too. Sounds to me like you’re a great mom. Sending you lots of love, and moist towelettes! 🙂

  4. Beth

    Thank you Lynne for taking the time to read and share a kind word!

  5. Beth

    Audrey I always think other women, other moms in this particular case, are our greatest allies and worst enemies all rolled into one! A kind word a kind gesture like you said, it just goes so far.

  6. Beth

    Thank you so much Jacqui you make such an important point about judging ourselves. We are often our harshest critics. Ooh and you can never have to many moist towelettes! 🙂

  7. Bright Side of Life

    I hear you. It takes time, lots of time. My son is nearly 16 and we managed to crack the code around the age of 11. As for other people… smile and wave, just smile and wave! x

  8. Beth

    I like that…I think I can do it…just smile and wave 🙂

  9. Jolene @ Different Dream for My Child

    Thank you for speaking so openly about an issue many parents try to hide because they know it makes others uncomfortable. And thanks for sharing this post at the Tuesday Dream Team link up at

  10. Cathy Blatnik

    Our 10 1/2 son with Autism just in the past two weeks has been asking to use the potty. Hang in there and if people judge you, they are the ones with the “issue” not you!!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Karen Beck

    I am a mom to a 15 yr old son who has autism and while he is potty trained he still has trouble with wiping himself off and we usually have to help him to make sure he is clean. So I’m still buying Huggies wipes by the case. Good to know I’m not the only one.

  12. Terrye

    We’ve tried many times to potty train our 8 year old non-verbal son with autism. But he just never seems interested. THANKFULLY, I have a husband who jumps in and helps, well, when he’s in town. He works out of town for 12 weeks at a time, so I’m usually doing it by myself.

    I, too, hope and pray that one day, we’ll be able to toss the pull ups out for good. Thank you for sharing your story and letting us know we aren’t alone with these struggles.

    You are my hero. <3

  13. Jennie B

    Right there with you. Thanks for sharing – it’s always nice to know you’re not alone.

  14. Beth

    Oh yes Karen we are right there with you on the wipes! And you do need quality wipes

  15. Beth

    Thank you Terrye it is nice to know we are not the only ones! Hang in there, even at 15 Cooper has started doing things, like talking more, that we thought he wouldn’t do…never give up hope!

  16. carmen

    Reading your story and Thank you for sharing have you ever research medline. products they carry a lot of incontinence products for all ages..

  17. Lisa

    My son is 22 and still wears pull on briefs. Thank you for writing this article. I have felt like a huge failure as a mom for so long. I know that I have tried every thing to get him trained but when I take him into the restroom with me the looks I get make me feel like a freak and a failure. My son is doing his best and so am I. So thank you for writing this it made me feel not so alone.

  18. Beth

    Thank you Lisa. It’s not a fun subject to talk about but it’s real and what we live with, and it’s ok. It definately helps to know we are not alone! Hang in there.

  19. Mike

    I’m glad I found this article. As a dad of a 17 year old nonverbal austistic boy I have felt guilty and frustrated my son is not potty trained. I shouldn’t judge my son this way either. perhaps I’m not ready. have you found resources for a potty training a teenager?

    • Beth

      Hi Mike I am sorry I did not see this sooner! The best thing that I have seen to work for older children and teenagers, and this is not all but some, is visuals and a rigid schedule essentially creating a routine. More of a focus on routine rather than actually potty training. If that makes sense. I don’t know that we will ever get Cooper potty trained at night. But I am grateful for the days. I wish you all the best!

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