Its a subject few parents of autistic children like to talk about but one that effects many children with Autism, fecal or poop smearing. Frequently children with Autism will smear poop on themselves, their toys and the walls. Its a big problem that many parents are embarrassed to talk about with friends, family or even their pediatrician. As a parent of an autistic child I am all too familiar with this taboo subject. Between the ages of three and four my autistic son engaged in poop smearing, but thankfully he outgrew it as will many other autistic children who engage in what is a disgusting and unhealthy behavior. As a parent you might wonder why you child engages in playing with his feces and what you can do about it, I know I did. To help you figure out why your autistic child engages in fecal smearing and how to prevent it I have written this article to share my thoughts on poop smearing and what worked for me.
Why Do Autistic Children Smear Their Feces?
There are many theories about why children smear their poop. Some say its because they like the sensory experience of playing with their feces. Others say that they are doing it for attention or to be manipulative, and still others say that its a stress response or done from boredom. I’m sure that there are children who engage in fecal smearing for any one of these reasons but for my son I found that it was because he would stick his hand in his diaper after he had defecated, get feces on his hand and then try to get it off by wiping it on whatever was handy. Unfortunately that turned out to be the wall, the carpet, his toys, himself and once even his little sisters hair. You can only imagine what a huge mess his efforts to wipe it off turned into.
Can Fecal Smearing Be Prevented?
Having to clean feces from the wall, carpet and toys can leave a parent in tears. Its not a pleasant job by any means and you never can get the carpet as clean as it was. The worst part is that after all that time you spent scrubbing and sanitizing it happens again the very next day. Fortunately there are some steps you can take to lessen the impact and incidents of fecal smearing.
Five Steps To Prevent Poop Smearing
One of the biggest steps to prevent fecal smearing in autistic children is to pay attention to when they are getting ready to have a bowel movement and change their soiled diaper right away. Not doing so will increase the chance that they will reach into their diaper and smear feces on your wall. Most children indicate when they are going to have a bowel movement by going off in a corner, hiding behind a chair, grimacing or sitting really still so be alert for these signs in your child to help prevent fecal smearing.
When my son was going through his fecal smearing stage we used onesies and shirts that snapped between the legs under his clothing to make it more difficult for him to get to his diaper. At night we did the same thing or put him in a one piece zippered pajama that was put on backwards. If you have a girl you could use a leotard or bathing suit under her clothing to prevent her from playing with her feces. If you have an older child you could try a one piece wrestling outfit.
Reward Appropriate Behavior
If your child responds well to rewards you can try and modify the fecal smearing behavior by rewarding him or her with a favorite treat when they have a dirty diaper but don’t stick their hand in it. Not all autistic children respond to rewards so this may or may not work for you.
Share The Clean Up
Sharing in the clean up was one of the things that helped stop my son from poop smearing. Whenever he would engage in this behavior I would make him help clean up. I put a pair of rubber on him, handed him a sponge and hand over hand helped him to clean up the mess he had made. You might be thinking that having him help clean up is unsanitary but its not anymore unsanitary than smearing the poop was. He really hated to help clean up and I think that this is one of things that contributed to the end of the fecal smearing.
Provide Similar Sensory Experiences
If your child is playing with their feces for a purely sensory reason then you might try providing other types of sensory activities to take the place of the fecal smearing. Finger painting, playing with clay or silly putty, and playing in the mud all may help to replace the sensory input that your child is getting from playing with his feces.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical practitioner just a mom who has an autistic child and any advice given is not meant to replace that of a licensed professional.