Incontinence Special Needs Factsheet
What Teachers Should Know
Incontinence is common among preschoolers. It’s usually the result of kids waiting until the last minute to go to a bathroom. Urinary incontinence, or daytime wetting, is more common than fecal incontinence, or soiling. Bladder or bowel incontinence is rarer among elementary and secondary students.
Causes of incontinence include:
- overactive bladder
- constipation, which can result in urinary or fecal incontinence
- problems with nerves from the lower spinal cord that control bowel and bladder function
- problems related to other conditions, such as diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and spina bifida
Students with incontinence may:
- need preferential seating nearest to a bathroom
- miss class time due to frequent bathroom breaks
- have pain or discomfort due to bladder or bowel issues
- need to go to the school nurse for medication or to change their clothes
- benefit from a 504 education plan
- feel anxious or embarrassed by their incontinence
- be at risk for teasing or bullying due to their condition
What Teachers Can Do
Incontinence can affect your student’s self-esteem, social well-being, and even academic performance. Incontinence can be embarrassing to anyone, especially if it happens in the classroom. Students’ abilities to wait until appropriate bathroom breaks can depend on a variety of factors. For students with special needs, for example, it may be difficult to communicate their need to use a bathroom.
Make sure your students with incontinence know they can go to the bathroom whenever they need to, without asking permission. Adding regularly scheduled, frequent breaks also can help reduce accidents.
While most students with incontinence will outgrow it, others may continue to have difficulties. Be patient, understanding, and reassuring, and avoid drawing attention to your student.
Reviewed by: Mary Lou Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: May 2015