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Behavioural treatment of urinary incontinence and encopresis in children with learning disabilities: transfer of stimulus control

Lookup NU author(s): Linda Smith, Dr Paul Smith


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Urinary and faecal incontinence present a considerable problem in people with learning disabilities, despite the general effectiveness of behavioural techniques in continence training. Children with learning disabilities and obsessional behaviour may be particularly resistant to toilet training, even where relatively cognitively able, and often despite a substantial degree of control over their eliminatory functions. Their resistance may be more appropriately regarded as a challenging behaviour and their incontinence better explained by factors other than a simple failure to learn. A 'stimulus-control' hypothesis proposes that the child's nappy (diaper) /potty/underwear has developed strong stimulus control over the elimination response. This report describes three case studies in which treatment-resistant children, aged between 8 and 12 years, with mild or moderate learning disabilities, were successfully treated for nappy-dependent nocturnal encopresis or diurnal urinary incontinence, The children were routine case referrals for whom previous attempts to train bowel or bladder control had failed. Behavioural techniques, such as 'shaping' (gradually increasing the proximity to the toilet), 'fading' (reducing the presence of the nappy), and rewards for eliminating, effected successful transfer of stimulus control over elimination from nappy to toilet. Treatment times varied, depending on the degree of the child's obsession and resistance to change.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smith L, Smith P, Lee SKY

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology

Year: 2000

Volume: 42

Issue: 4

Pages: 276-279

ISSN (print): 0012-1622

ISSN (electronic): 1469-8749

Publisher: Mac Keith Press