Bed Wetting and the Autistic Child

Bed Wetting and the Autistic Child

I love the fact that my son is potty trained, mostly. We are still having problems with bed wetting. It’s extremely frustrating. I’m tired of having to wash his bedding every morning. There are times when he will go several days without wetting his bed, but that hasn’t been happening too often. When I get up in the morning, I wake him up and send him to the bathroom. He won’t get up in the middle of the night, or in the morning, and go to the bathroom on his own.

I decided to do what we did to potty train him. When he wets his bed, he gets something taken away. When he has a dry night, he gets something back. We are in the taking away stage of this process. I started it yesterday, and hope that he will get the message in a few days. He isn’t happy about it. I went in this morning, his bed was wet, and he had what was taken away from him yesterday. I took that away, plus took something else. I also explained what I was doing, and why.

I know he can do this. He understands, he just doesn’t want to. He hasn’t been made to. I believe that the only way to get him out of this bad habit (behavior) is to get him to understand that there will be consequences for wetting his bed. It’s not acceptable, and mommy and daddy will not let him get away with it anymore.

I hope he picks up on this quickly. Running the washer and dryer everyday for his bedding is wasting money. It also means a bath every morning, in addition to the ones he gets at night. Enough is enough. I blame myself for allowing this to go on so long. I should have done something long before now. It won’t be easy, but I am going to stick to my guns. Like potty training, we will come out the other side triumphant.

30 comments to Bed Wetting and the Autistic Child

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  • cindy mathes

    Are you nuts??? Bed wetting is not a behavioral issue. Kids do not wet the bed for attention or to act out. I would cry myself to sleep praying to have a dry night.Thank your lucky stars that you are only having to wash his bedding and its not yours. Argh. I truly believe that bedwettiing has to do with sleep cycles.and we know that autistic children suffer from abnormal sleep. This is from a girl that wet her bed until puberty. Which is about the time sleep cycles change. I prayed, begged, made deals with God..thank goodness I had parents that loved me and understood. My dad had been a bedwetter as well.

    • Tammy

      I wasn’t expecting to be attacked over my post. You don’t know my son the way I do. I never said he was doing it to get attention or was acting out. He is doing it out of habit. It’s been his habit to not get up at night and use the bathroom. Just like it was his habit to wet himself during the day, instead of going to use the bathroom. We potty trained him for during the day using this method, and I believe it will work for night.

  • Sara

    Tammy, I am shocked by your response to your son’s “behavior”. Is he waking up in the middle of the night, standing by the bed and urinating on it purposefully? It sounds to me as if he is experiencing accidents while he is asleep. Surely, you must understand that he cannot control what happens while he is asleep. Have you tried changing your “behavior”? Cutting off liquids after dinner? Waking in him in the middle of the night to make trips to the bathroom until his body starts recognizing the signs of needing to relieve the bladder? Have you taken him to the doctor to be sure there is not a medical reason behind this? I, too, am the mother of an 11 year old boy; he is a HFA. We were very fortunate to receive early intervention, and he and I have been in many types of therapy since he was 2.5 years old. I cannot recall of a single time when I was instructed to use negative reinforcement for a behavior. Please check with your Autism support team for appropriate guidelines on helping your son.

    • Tammy

      While I respect your right to have your own opinion on this, telling me that I am wrong to take this approach is a little high handed of you. I know what works for my son. He doesn’t have a medical problem. We have tried waking him up in the middle of the night. That hasn’t worked. We do cut off his liquids after dinner. Taking this approach is what worked for potty training him during the day. I believe it will work for solving his bed wetting problem.

  • Faith

    I totally agree that you know your son best. My 7yo (who is not autistic) has had an ongoing problem with wetting the bed. Bedtime pullups cost too much, washing the bedding daily is crazy. When we spoke to the dr about it we were told we could spend more $$ on tools that may not work to train him to get up and go during the night or do a rewards system. If he is dry he got a sticker. After so many stickers he gets something. Toys and things are privileges… A child does not have to have them to be healthy. For my 5yo that is SPD & suspected Asperger’s the one thing that gets through to him is taking away toys. You know your child, and you are not a bad mom.

  • While I can’t understand what you go through every day or have to deal with daily because I don’t walk in your shoes I hope that you can work through the bed wetting and get him back on the right track.

    I apologize for the comments above obviously they think they are being helpful. NO One knows our children like we do. Sometimes others need to read or don’t read and move on! Until they walk a day in YOUR shoes they need to keep their comments to them selves. There’s a way to offer helpful tips or suggestions to help someone out and that’s not it.

  • While you don’t mention how old your son is and I will admit, I don’t know much about autistic children as I didn’t raise children within the spectrum, I truly hope this works for you. You seem to have done a lot of research into this matter and have tried all other things, as well as checking to see if he has a medical condition.
    Good luck, let us know how it works.
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  • MIKA

    OMG!!! I cant believe how we are soooo quick to judge one another. First of all their is NO TRUE BOOK OR MANUAL TO RAISE CHILDREN, let alone children with AUTISM. EVERYTHING IS TRIAL AND ERROR.

    So to throw rocks at this mom for posting what she believes as a trial in the endless journey to raise children (with or without disabilities) is a little VAIN and Hypocritical. WHY NOT SUGGEST ALTERNATIVES. SHE’S OBVIOUSLY CRYING OUT FOR HELP AND FRUSTRATED, Like we ALL get from time to time.

    If you do your research on NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT, it is a principal that was taught & utilized in the ABA PROCESS. It focuses on the ABC method of reinforcing behaviors.
    The method the method is using is more close to punishment.

  • Dee

    I don’t know how old your son is but if the doctor can find no medical reason for his bedwetting then it is behavioral.

    A cousin has a son who wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning and go to the bathroom on his own but would wait for her to come get him. She tried talking to him and telling him he could get out of bed but he didn’t seem to understand. Her solution was similar to yours. He liked to get on the computer with her and play a few games. If he was dry when she went in to his room he got to go on the computer but if he was wet he needed to take a bath and that cut into computer time and he wasn’t allowed to get on. It wasn’t really a punishment but more of a consequence. If you’re dry you can do what you like but if you’re wet you’re not being punished BUT that computer time will be spent on cleaning you up. It took a few weeks but it worked.
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    • Tammy

      That’s how I look at it. It’s a method that works for my son. It may not work for all children, but we all know that our children are different. They respond to different things.

  • cindy mathes

    Well, my parents tried and tried all the things you tried. I guarantee that none of that worked. Tried with my kids as well. No. My daughters ped. Hit it on the nail. Sleep cycles. She prescribed an early anti depressant. Only to help her sleep cycle. I am also not a stranger to Autism. 4 grandsons have it. One out of 4 wet the bed. He cried because he couldn’t help it. Reinforcing good or bad behavior is a great teaching tool. However a person needs to be conscious before they can choose a behaviour.
    Sorry that I blasted you. But I stand my ground. When and if your child looks you in the eye and cries from embarrassment and frustration, you won’t believe me.

    • Tammy

      He is conscious of what he is doing. He understands when he needs to use the bathroom. He also has no problems with his sleep cycles. You are entitled to your opinion. But I understand my son, why he is wetting his bed.

  • cindy mathes

    One person here says you are asking for suggestions. I suggest you spend the entire night with him and see if it is behavioral. That is all I am saying. one person said that if the doctors say nothing is wrong with him, it is behavioral. Well I am glad she never had this problem.

  • I wet the bed until I was ten. HOWEVER, it was due to medical issues. After several medical procedures, which required hospitalization, the problem resolved on its own. A mom knows her child. My Mom knew mine was not behavioral, but medical. You know your son. You know his is not medical, but behavioral. Regardless of the behavior modification technique used to potty train ANY child, the key is to make sure the child is not shamed because of an ACCIDENT. That aside, you know your son and have to use a technique that will work with him. If this technique worked with him in the past, I hope you get results quickly this time around, as well.
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  • Lee

    I’d probably rather take a toy away from my child than put them on an early anti depressant, but that is just me. I hate medicating my kids. I think we should all slow down and stop throwing stones because she is not saying that if he wets the bed she waterboards him! She knows her child and based on this blog she LIVES for her child.

    Look even I got all judgey above on anti depressant lady. It’s not cool to point fingers and makes others defensive.

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  • I’m so sorry you are struggling with this Tammy! You know what’s best for your child, so keep up the good work.
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  • You definitely know your child better than anyone. You are a great mommy and strong woman. Let us know how this goes! HUGS.

  • I really hope this works. I think you as a parent know your cuild better than anyone, and know what will work for him. I just do not understand anyone who would be so quick to put their child on drugs of any kind without trying other methods first.
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  • Pam

    Good luck, I hope the cycle is broken quickly. Keep up the good work – I know, you know your child best are well equipped to deal with the issue.

  • geez, from reading the comments they make it sound like you beat your kid for wetting the bed! Taking away something is not that bad! Its a way that he can learn consequences to actions. If he is capable of changing his habits, this will be motivational for him.
    If he’s not capable of learning to stop the bed wetting and things continue to get taken away from him, I’m certain that you would investigate further into the bed wetting issue beyond a behavioral thing – but meanwhile, you can’t just assume that your child has a medical condition or ‘accidents’. You still have to rule out the behavioral issues.

    It’s no different than any other parent in teaching their children that actions have consequences. young children and autistic children both need to be taught consequences in a way that matters to them: and if that means taking something they like away from them until they can earn it back – thats GREAT! At least you’re teaching him!
    Its better than those parents out there that just assume that their children will eventually learn… or even worse – assume that they’re incapable of learning without medication (where as most the time it is a parenting issue, not a learning issue.)

  • cindy mathes

    I wish that my first response had not been so negative, but you have no idea how devastating this problem is to a bedwetter. I do appreciate your struggles with your autistic son. I know first hand. I know what melt downs are. I also know there are no 2 autistic children alike. Until we had our grandsons, I thought Autism was like Rainman. Now I know better. My GS’s are all across the spectrum. From Ryan, who is high functioning, intelligent asperger like…to his brother Noah who is non verbal with severe melt downs. Another brother,Ashton, has more sensory issues. Their cousin has his own issues, but Billy Michael is awesome as well. One thing I have learned, is that there are no 2 alike. I describe it like this. Each child goes to the Autistic store and picks out there own set of symptoms on the shelves. Their symptoms overlap and you have to treat them like individuals. My GS’s range in ages 12 to 7. Ryan, our highest functioning, was the one that wet the bed. He would cry because of it. Ask me, Grandma why? So what should they take away from him. He was asleep. It embarrassed him so bad. He is 10 now. I think he rarely has accidents now. Noah is still not lofty trained. He will be 9 Sunday. I am not sure how we can take anything away from him, when half the time we don’t know what he wants.

    As for the lady who thought I should punish my daughter instead of trying medication. Well when she is12 and begging for help because she can’t stay overnight with her friends without embarrassing herself…and when sh is the one changing her bedding, because yes it is time consuming, but she is at the age to help around the house.
    So you see, this is not something I know nothing about. ..also don’t dissmiss sleep cycles. We are learning more and more about them . Here is an example…a friend/family that has custody of her step son. He is 15. About 2 wks before he has to go spend time with his mom, he starts wetting the bed. He gets very upset. But he says he isn’t upset because he has to see his mom…well not consciously, but sub conscious, I am sure it effects him and this effects the way he sleeps.

    I am sorry to ramble. I hope this works for you, but please keep an open mind and if he gives any indication that it isn’t behavioral, think about changing your strategy.

    I do want to apolgize again for attacking you. I also know you deal with a whole set of obstacles that most people have no idea. I respect you for that. I really am not a monster or bitch. I work as a substitute, and have beenworking mostly in the extremely handicapped students are in jr.high.

  • So hard! Little Bird is trained during waking hours (but only pee- she asks for a diaper for poop), but we’re nowhere ready for night time training.
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  • copying my comment from your post over at

    Bed wetting is very hard, I know this, both my girls still wet frequently – 6yo and 7yo.

    BUT and this is really important, if a child has gone to the toilet before going to bed, not had lots to drink prior to bedtime and they still wet. Then it is beyond their control. This is not something your son is making a choice to do, not something he can make a choice to stop doing. Please don’t punish him for something that is beyond his control.

    “Recent research has found that many children who wet the bed produce
    less of a hormone known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH) during sleep. This
    hormone normally reduces urine production during sleep. These children
    produce more urine during the hours of sleep than their bladders can
    hold. If they do not wake up, the bladder releases the urine and the
    child wets the bed.”

    We are lucky enough to be recieving assistance from a continence nurse for our girls bedwetting problems. She has gotten us larger pull ups for the girls to wear a night, water proof mats that go over their sheets to absorb any wetness so we only have to wash the mat not the rest of the bedding. Currently we are trialling an alarm mat, it goes under the child with just a thing pillowcase over the top of it. Child sleeps in underwear and as soon as they start to wet an alarm rings and hopefully wakes the child. In theory this mat should trigger the hormone to develop and the child will start waking at night to go to the toilet.

    It is a challenging process having children that bed wet and as you say washing and drying all that bedding is costly. Just remember your child likely finds it just as distressing as you, especially if it is beyond their control, my little aspies hate anything being beyond their control and desperately want to be dry at night.
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  • cory

    the kind parents who accept the fact that it is “often hereditary”, and something he will “eventually outgrow”, are the best parents a bedwetter could have. as a kid who grew up in various foster homes, i had some awful experiences with ignorant parents who never seemed to understand it was not something a kid “does” to make their parent’s lives more difficult, but is something that “happens to” the child. no kid wets himself on purpose, so it’s no more his fault than snoring is for an adult. it’s just something that happens while he is asleep for-goodness-sake! Just be kind and sweet as you diaper him for bed, and reassure him it’s not his fault, and you still love him no matter what. when he feels embarrassed about wearing diapers try to help him understand the “sanitary” issues that make it the right thing to do. if he insists, let him learn the hard way how unpleasant it will be to wake up wet, but keep offering him his diapers back every night until he accepts them, because he will never be mature enough to admit his mistake and ask you to diaper him again. it may not be until he is a grownup, with kids of his own, before he understands what a gift he was given to have such wise and loving parents.

  • If anyone is interested or has the need for it, there is a junior sized diaper for kids ages 5 and above called the Abri-Form Junior. It’s eco-friendly and highly absorbent. You can buy it at

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