Managing Spitting Behavior in Autistic Children

A child that spits can be doing it for a variety of reasons and these reasons can include communication, aggression, enjoyment or to fulfill a sensory need.

Spitting is a behavior that is more often seen when children on the spectrum are either nonverbal, when they battle to communicate or express themselves and/or when the child becomes anxious during group-based activities.

Our priority is always to establish a reason behind why the behavior may be happening.  This all whilst realizing that any behavior is an attempt to meet a very particular need.  Behavior in Autism is used as an inappropriate form of communication.

Spitting behavior in children with autism can be extremely frustrating for parents and educators alike to deal with. How we respond to this behavior is very much also going to be how we stop the autistic child from spitting.

How should we respond to this behavior?  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Prepare yourself for the behavior. You know it is coming so be ready to respond to the behavior appropriately.
  2. Stay calm and don’t raise your voice or change what you are doing to immediately give attention to your child.
  3. Don’t react immediately. Wait and see what your child does.
  4. Label the behavior for your child, tell your child spitting is not good or it is bad behavior. Introduce a visual with PECS cards to visually reinforce what you are saying.
  5. Analyze the possible reasons for the child’s behavior. Look particularly at:
    • the time of day
    • what activity the child was asked to do
    • ask what, where why question every time, it happens.
  6. From a very young age get your child to clean up their spit.
  7. Depending on the age of your child and or the nature of your child’s disability you may be able to try “time out” or a “bad behavior token system.
  8. Teaching your child, the appropriate way to communicate is vital. Communication and speaking are different and just like spitting is a nonverbal form of communication, an autism therapist, speech therapist, autism school or autism specialist can help you implement more appropriate tools that your child can use to communicate their desires or needs.
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Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.