Your child may not have the skills to communicate his own needs as well as be able to understand the directions or expectations that are being communicated to him. There are two aspects to communication: expressive language and receptive language. Expressive language involves the child’s ability to create and express a message to others; receptive language involves being able to understand another’s speech or visual message. Problems with either expressive or receptive language can affect a child’s ability to successfully participate in the toileting process.
Some ways to support receptive language skills so your child understands the expectations are:
- Creating a visual schedule using pictures to communicate steps of toileting; you may also want to use nonverbal cues and signs. If you child is in school or daycare you can consult with the professionals there about what visuals they are using. See Part 19: Use of Books, Videos & Other Visuals about the benefits of using visuals.
- Pair words (for example: “potty”, “diaper”, “dry pants”, “bathroom”) with the visuals and limit what you say. Even a child who is developmentally very young can benefit from seeing the pictures as well as hearing the words. Review and refer to the visual routine often – when engaged in the toileting steps and at other times so your child finds it familiar and predictable.
- Give your child sufficient time to process and respond to what you are saying – a good rule of thumb is ten seconds.
- Be aware of your own tone of voice and body language so that the interaction is positive; be calm and reassuring. Look at the situation through your child’s eyes as you choose what to say and what to do.
- Your child may need to watch you or another model of the the same sex using the toilet in order to understand what is expected.
Some ways to support expressive language so that you child, whether he is verbal or non-verbal, can better communicate his needs and wants, are:
- Teach and use words for body parts and functions as well as toileting that your child can both understand and use. Avoid words that will be too difficult for him to express.
- Provide picture exchange visuals that your child can access to communicate his needs to you.
- For a non-verbal child, make use of voice output devices or other audible alarm that your child can access to get your attention (for example, a bell or a buzzer)
- Consult with your child’s school to coordinate the materials and symbols to be used in both settings
- Create a portable set of communication pictures for use away from home.