My Kid is Smearing Feces! HELP!

smearing-poopWhen you are saying these words, what you want most desperately is for someone, ANYONE, to help you figure out how to get your kid to stop smearing poo.  Stop touching it, playing in it, smearing it, eating it, and so forth – how can I get my child to just leave it alone?!?

While I’m sure every child is unique, I’m going to share our experience of getting through this challenge shortly after my son was potty trained (around 8 years of age).  Hopefully they’ll be some gems from our family’s story to help your family create a happy and CLEAN ending to your story as well!

It Happened to Us
Our son Jake, for whatever reason, decided to paint his bed, bedroom wall, and self shortly after bedtime one night.  The smell beckoned to me to check on him, and upon turning the light on to the horrific sight I immediately called to my husband in a panic for help, “CLIIIIIFFFF!!!!”  Luckily we had a box of latex gloves in the house, so after retrieving those we began the massive clean-up job.

We very firmly told our son that he was not allowed to touch poop, it belonged in the potty, way too yucky, etc.  The reprimands and lecture continued throughout the hour-long cleaning process, in which I took the kid to the tub and my husband got the joyous task of cleaning the room.

Fast forward to tomorrow night and repeat the same scenario.  And then the night after that too. And the next. And the next.  This smelly, frustrating scene took place night after night despite us begging, pleading, and attempting super vigilant poo-guard watching to no avail.  Our kid seemed determined to play in his poo every night at bedtime like a new disgusting ritual in which we had no choice but to join.  How do you get through to a child who has extremely limited language and social awareness?

My Call for Help
I frantically called the only people who seemed to understand the full scope of the challenges to connecting with a child on the severe end of the autism spectrum – the amazing Son-Rise® folks at the Autism Treatment Center of America.  I told them about our circumstances, and they set me up for an emergency 20 minute phone consultation with one of their child facilitators.  After having me describe the scene in great detail she cheerfully responded, “It sounds as though your brilliant child has found a very reliable way to light both his parents up like Christmas trees every night!”

Yes, he absolutely did, she was 100% right.  Did we want him to stop?  Yes!  Then since we couldn’t control our child, we had to tap into what we could control – ourselves.  Skeptically trusting her words of wisdom, my husband and I devised our new plan for the upcoming night and beyond.  (She had assured me it may take a bit of time to work).

The Plan Involved Three Crucial Points

  1. Stop lighting up like a Christmas tree.  Make it boring.  Specifically, I was to take my child to the tub and silently and quickly clean him off with peace in my heart that this too shall pass.  This is easier said than done, believe me.  It was very hard not to believe in the fear that this could happen forever.  I focused on my breathing while I cleaned him off.  I focused on how much I loved this kid.  I remembered the consultants advice of not saying a thing to him, or as little as possible, because obviously the lectures were doing no good.  I was to shut the door behind me while my husband silently cleaned the room and bed area without my son seeing/hearing him.
  2. Visually illustrate his choice and the consequences.  I made two simple books illustrated with stick figures to “show” Jake that we’d make it worth his while to cooperate.  One was called “Jake Uses the Potty” and emphasized how he made the poop go into the potty, used the wipes to keep his hands clean, went to bed clean, and had a great time the next day getting his favorite cookies and going to the park.  The other book was called, “Jake Makes a Poop Mess.”  This one showed Jake smearing his feces on his wall and having to get washed off, and then showed him having to stay home the next day and not getting any cookies.  I was going to show him BOTH these books throughout the day as many times as he’d let me.
  3. Satisfy his curiosity and interest in poop in a more appropriate way. I brought back out all the potty books we owned to further emphasize the appropriate habits and to hopefully help satisfy his fascination in a cleaner manner.  The book Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi , for example, was a definite favorite.

The Outcome
Sure enough, that first night we were given our opportunity to put ourselves to that “poop isn’t such a big deal” test.  I knew the consultant’s advice was most definitely onto something when in our silent clean-up mode my son began yelling “CLIIIFFFFFF!”  exactly in the frantic tone I would’ve normally used!   It was as if he were saying, “Mom, this is what you’re supposed to say!”  Two or three more quiet clean ups over the next two weeks was all it took, and our feces smearing days (knock on wood) were over for good.  Years later we still, however, look at and discuss the poop books, commercial and hand-made, on occasion.  Poop isn’t evil, after all, but it’s definitely better if you don’t have to touch it.



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Tara McClintick About Tara McClintick

Tara McClintick is an Early Childhood Special Education teacher turned Son-Rise® mom. She is the mother of two amazing boys, the youngest one considered on the severe end of the autism spectrum. She creates fun, visually based concept books designed to promote awareness, thinking, interaction and language development that can be found at

  • Martianne Stanger

    My son went through a poop stage (maybe two, even). It was only years later at a conference that I realized the likely reason: sensory issues. Poop, as we all know, has quite a strong smell. The brain has trouble focusing on more than one super strong input at once (think about the idea that we can only feel pain in one place at one single moment). So, some children, particularly children who have yet to develop strong language, movement, etc., sometimes discover that the can temporarily “cancel” other sensory input that may be throwing their systems out of whack, by giving themselves a strong input (like the smell of poop!) Of course, they do not realize that is what they re doing in a conscious way… Not sure if this makes sense to others, but it sure did to us.

  • Gwen WIld

    Great advice. Thank you, Tara!

  • bonnie hacker

    Great article. With some sensory seeking children we have had success offering them the alternative of play with homemade playdough laced with coffee grinds. This offered some of the same strong olfactory and tactile input that ‘poop’ does.

  • Tara McClintick

    I tried replying here yesterday, but I don’t see it so I’m trying again :~) Yes, this definitely makes sense, and may very well have been the reason my son started the whole smearing stuff – how did you help your son move through the poop stages?

  • Joanna Keating-Velasco

    I love the “light you up like Christmas trees!” Great visual for giving unwarranted attention. Thank you for this worthwhile article.

  • Tara McClintick

    So glad you liked it Joanna! It is amazing to realize that he was just exploring what kind of control/power he had over his environment, which is really a natural thing all kids do to different degrees. Probably started out innocent exploring and then I guess he found the predictability of how he could “light us up” exciting – especially for a kid who struggles more than most to find his control over things.

  • Father of an ASD Child

    Fecal Smearing with autistic children:

    This problem is wide spread throughout the autistic community. I would
    bet that 80 to 90 % of all ASD children have done it at least one time,
    some more times than the parent can count. This can be the most
    frustration thing you can be exposed to as a parent of an ASD child.
    Although there are many reasons professionals say they do this but there is one thing
    for sure they do it and you are reading this because you want it to
    stop. Well the only person that can stop this is you the parent or
    guardian of this autistic child.
    I am a father of an extreme ASD
    child so when you read my letters you will know that its coming not from
    a Dr. with a stamp on a piece of paper but from someone that has lived
    and is living through this very problem. I have tried several things to
    keep out child from spear his poop and I have found that the only time
    that our child smears poop is when he needs a very large amount of
    sensory input.
    For the parents that have autistic children that
    are non-verbal, this problem is way more common place within the homes
    of these children. The reason is they are unable to tell you they have
    to go to the bathroom and most of them really don’t even care. Some of
    these children will be in diapers for several years.
    If you want to
    stop this from happening you will need to change your entire lifestyle
    and for some this is not a very good answer, in fact for most this is
    one of the most frustrating answers to hear. Because, you have no life
    of your own anymore. Because it’s all about the ASD child. You must
    dedicate all your time to this child there is no time to clean there is
    no time to sit and relax there is no time for that movie you want to
    watch or even that weekly TV show there just is no time.
    1. You need help
    2. You need to come to terms with your new life with your autistic child,

    unless you are one of the lucky ones that has deep pockets and can
    afford all the best care for him or her. Most people don’t, and I am one
    of them. So I have come up with many ways to keep this from happening
    when I need some time alone. I say this because my wife is Bipolar on
    top of it all so my stress levels are off the charts some days.
    Especially when she is having one of those I don’t give about anything

    How to keep it from happening again:
    No this is the key to clean walls, beds and your child
    1. Look in on them frequently; do not leave them alone for any more than a couple minutes at a time.

    2. Pay close attention to their bowl movements and the times because
    this will save you in the long run from having yet another poop mess to
    clean. And we all know at least the ones that go through this; it’s not a
    very fun task to have to repeat over and over again. In fact it gets so
    frustrating you just want to scream.
    3. Pay attention to their
    attitude each day and learn to read there emotions this will save you
    more times than you will ever know. What I mean by this statement is,
    know when you child needs sensory input this is something you can learn
    to read after a period of time. in most cases they are have an
    uncontrollable energy about them flapping running screaming grunting
    spitting all these things can tell you there sensory input needs, need
    to be met ASAP. If you put them in their room when these things are
    happening you might as well get the bleach and water ready because you
    are going to have a poop mess to clean in a few short minutes. You
    cannot run from there needs of sensory input plain and simple you have
    to buck up and deal with it.
    • Physical things you can do when you absolutely need some time alone:

    1. First and foremost you need to modify their bedroom to be almost
    indestructible or you will be paying a whole hell of a lot more money
    having repairs done to the drywall, light fixtures windows and wall
    sockets then if you do the modifications.
    2. You have to find a way
    to board up the windows so in case of an emergency the rescue crews can
    get in but he can’t get out or possible break the window and hurt or
    even kill him or herself on the broken glass.
    3. There is Plexiglas
    fiberglass and smooth coated wood you can use to cover the walls with.
    You will need to find a light fixture cover to keep the child from
    throwing toys at it and breaking it. You will need to cover the closet
    so they can’t climb up into it and possible hurt themselves.
    4. Last
    but on least, you will need to get one of those reinforced half doors
    with the top part having a strong Plexiglas window installed in it, so
    you can look in on them. Or have a video system installed so you can
    monitor them as well. Be careful though, these things can be destroyed
    by your child with one direct hit from a flying toy.

    • The task of keeping their clothing on when they don’t want to wear clothes:

    This is one of the hardest things to deal with. Most ASD children don’t
    like the feeling of cloths on them and this happens again when they are
    in need of massive sensory input.
    1. Duct tape works for the first
    couple years but they figure it out. there is one thing you can be sure
    of and that is that there is no person on this plaen that has more
    determination than an ASD child. Your ASD child will continue to work on
    a project ontil its completely done and that means removing there
    clothing no matter what you do. So you really need to lear the steps on
    keeping there clothing on.
    2. Jumpsuits or the onesie that has a
    zipper. You must learn to put the zipper in the back but remember if it
    is to loose they will take it off by stretching out the neck of the
    jumpsuit. They sometimes rub there back on the wall until they get the
    zipper down far enough to take the clothing off.
    3. You must duct
    tape the diaper you then must put on some shorts and duct tape that then
    you put on the onesie and duct tape the waistline not the stomach this
    can cause intestinal problems so make sure it’s on their waist. Then
    duct tape the zipper on the top of the outfit. This will keep the child
    from unzipping the suit. But remember the outfit has to me snug. Last
    but not least before you do all this make sure to cut the feet off the
    onesie or the child will have leverage to pull it down.
    This may
    seem a bit extreme but believe me, I know from experience how to do
    these things. It’s a real task taking all the tape off but I would
    rather do that then to have to clean crap off my child the walls bed and
    everywhere else they can smear it.
    Just remember this one thing all
    they want is to fill their sensory needs, you must help them with this.
    By bear hugs and other ways of pressure using a bristle brush on their
    arms and legs works as well. a light scratching on their back works too.
    If you have a boy give them a buz hair cut so you have rub there head
    opposite of the hair growth giving them there sensory needs. Monitor
    them while there playing with clay silly putty slime or even finger
    paints. Shoot make a mud pit outside and let them play in the mud it’s a
    lot easier to spray them off with the hose when they have mud on them,
    than it is to clean crap off of everything in your house.

    hope this article helps you in your times of stress. Dealing with an ASD
    child is not something we ask for but try and understand, you are not
    going through it alone. One more very important thing you need to
    understand. Your ASD child is living the hell that you have to deal
    with. You have it bad but these poor kids have it a thousand times worse
    because they are living it day in and day out. The most important thing
    you can do is have patients and most of all love your child love, love,
    love your child.

    Rich Ornelas 05/25/2013

  • Tara McClintick

    Thanks for all that great info Rich, and especially the last paragraph – very important to keep in mind and so true. Each of us is doing the best we can do given our circumstances, including our kids!

  • Nicola

    My 7 yr old partly verbal son, who hates tissues and toilet paper (and wet wipes) will not clean his bottom after a poo. We thought his teacher had cracked it by basically bribing him to use it so things were OKish for a while, but twice recently I have found him with poo on his hands and smeared on his stomach – clearly he did get the message about not smearing it on the walls. He knows he shouldn’t have poo on his hands as he is very keen to show Mummy that he is washing the poo off with soap and water, but how do I get him to use the toilet paper????