Is Playing with Poop a Sign of Autism?

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washing hands after fecal smearing

Many parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have reported their child engaging in fecal smearing, which involves playing with their feces.

This behavior can be alarming and distressing for parents and caregivers, and they may wonder whether it is a sign of autism.

Fecal smearing is not a diagnostic criterion for ASD, but it is a behavior commonly observed in individuals with autism. 

But what else do we know?

What Is Fecal Smearing?

Fecal smearing is when a child takes their feces and smears it on themselves, surfaces, or objects.

Playing with poop (“scatolia” is the official industry jargon) is also common in some children with autism. It can be a distressing and challenging behavior for parents and caregivers to manage.

Research from The Autistic Society in the UK indicates that 46% of children with autism engage in fecal smearing, compared to only 1% of typically developing children.

It is important to note that fecal smearing can indicate other underlying issues, such as constipation or gastrointestinal problems.

Therefore, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider if this behavior persists.

Causes of Scatolia (Fecal Smearing)

Fecal smearing is unpleasant and unhygienic and may indicate an underlying medical or psychological issue.

This section will explore what can be done to address it!

Sensory Issues

Children with autism often have sensory processing issues, affecting how they experience and respond to different sensations.

Some children may find the texture, smell, or feel of poop soothing or stimulating, leading them to engage in this behavior.

Communication Difficulties

Children with autism may have difficulty communicating their needs and wants effectively. Playing with poop may be a way for them to express their discomfort with a situation or environment.

Anxiety or Stress

Children with autism may experience high anxiety or stress levels, leading to a range of challenging behaviors, including playing with poop.

This behavior may be a way for children to cope with feelings of anxiety or stress.

Medical Issues

Children with autism may also have underlying medical issues contributing to playing with poop.

For example, constipation or other digestive issues can cause discomfort or pain, leading children to seek relief through this behavior.

Working with a healthcare professional to identify and address any underlying medical issues contributing to this behavior is essential.

Additionally, behavioral interventions, such as positive reinforcement and sensory integration treatment, may help manage this behavior.

Tips to Overcome Fecal Smearing

While playing with poop is distressing for parents and caregivers, it is important to understand that this behavior is a symptom of autism, not a deliberate attempt to misbehave. 

Treatment for playing with poop in autism involves understanding the underlying cause of the behavior and addressing it accordingly.

The tips below are an excellent place to start!

Identify any sensory issues possibly contributing to the behavior. 

One approach to treatment is to identify any sensory issues that may be contributing to the behavior.

Children with autism may have difficulty processing sensory information, including the sensation of feces. 

Addressing sensory issues through occupational or sensory integration therapy can help reduce the urge to play with poop.

Consider creating a sensory room in your home to assist with this!

Use positive reinforcement.

Another approach is to use positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behavior.

This can involve rewarding the child for using the toilet properly or engaging in other appropriate behaviors instead of playing with poop.

Social stories can also help reinforce the importance of using the toilet and avoiding playing with poop.

Ask about medications.

Prescription medication can sometimes address underlying conditions contributing to the behavior.

For example, if the child is experiencing anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, medication may be prescribed to help manage these symptoms.

Working with a healthcare professional or qualified therapist is important to develop an individualized treatment plan for playing with poop in autism.

Proper support and intervention can reduce or eliminate this behavior and help the child develop more appropriate ways of meeting their needs and communicating.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is smearing feces a sign of abuse?

Yes, smearing feces can be a sign of abuse, especially in children or vulnerable adults who cannot express themselves clearly or protect themselves from abuse. In some cases, the behavior may be a symptom of a developmental or behavioral disorder, but it is important to rule out the possibility of abuse or neglect first.

At what age are most autistic children potty trained?

The age at which most autistic children become potty trained can vary widely and may depend on the individual child’s development and needs. While some autistic children may be potty trained at a typical age, others may experience delays or difficulties with toilet training. Working with a healthcare provider or behavioral specialist is important to develop a tailored toilet training plan that considers the child’s unique needs and challenges.

Does autism affect bowel movements?

Yes, autism can affect bowel movements in some individuals. Many autistic individuals may experience digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome. Some may also have difficulty with bowel movements due to sensory processing issues or anxiety around toileting.

Wrapping It Up

Playing with poop is not a definitive sign of autism, but it can be one of many potential symptoms.

It is important to remember that children with autism have many behaviors and symptoms, and no two children are alike.

However, suppose your child is playing with poop. In that case, it is important to speak with your child’s pediatrician or a specialist who can evaluate your child’s behavior and determine if an underlying issue needs to be addressed.

Additionally, it is important to remember that children with autism may have difficulty communicating their needs and struggle with sensory issues.

As a result, they may engage in behaviors that seem unusual or inappropriate to others.

Overall, it is important to approach any potential symptoms of autism with an open mind and a willingness to learn more about the disorder. With early intervention and support, children with autism can thrive and lead fulfilling lives!

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Author

  • Cam Russo

    Cam is a blogger, author, and content strategist with a keen love for the written word. His journey with high-functioning autism has kindled a strong advocacy for autism awareness. Today, Cam dedicates his efforts to educating parents. He sees laughter as a game-changer in learning, and strives every day to make education a fun and enjoyable journey for all his readers.