How to Help an Autistic Child to Stop Spitting

By Amber Keefer ; Updated April 18, 2017

Coping with an autistic child’s inappropriate behaviors can pose some serious challenges. The key to dealing with a particular behavior is in understanding it. Whether the reason for the behavior is too much sensory stimulation, a change in daily routine or problems processing information, not being able to say how he feels can cause a child with autism to feel anxious, stressed, frustrated and angry. All of these emotions can lead to difficult -- and embarrassing -- behaviors like spitting.

Watch your child’s behavior to determine what need spitting fulfills. Pay attention to her mood and to what is happening at the time she spits. She may like the attention spitting gets her or the way the saliva feels on her face or hands. Sometimes kids with autism use behaviors such as kicking, pinching, biting, hair pulling and spitting to avoid situations that make them feel uncomfortable. Spitting is especially common among younger children with autism, Dr. Matthew Siegel, a clinical investigator at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, points out on the website, Autism Speaks.

Avoid reinforcing the behavior. If your child spits to keep from doing something and you let him get away with it, you are reinforcing the negative behavior. It’s important to address the behavior early on before it gets worse. If you ask your child to do something and he resists, follow through with the request. Despite inappropriate behavior like spitting, be ready to stand your ground.

Teach your child to communicate her feelings in a more appropriate manner. Many kids with autism use aggressive behaviors like spitting to express themselves. Sign language is a visual form of communication that can reduce the occurrence of negative behaviors autistic children sometimes display when they have trouble communicating to others what they want or need, notes National Autism Resources. Reinforcing effective means of communication can help build a child's verbal and nonverbal skills.

Encourage your child to replace spitting with another activity that fills the same need. For example, water play, finger painting, playing in sand and squishing play dough are fun sensory play activities for your child when he needs more sensory input. If your child spits as a way to initiate social interaction, give him plenty of attention each time he behaves appropriately, suggests the UK's National Autism Society. The goal is for him to associate the positive attention he receives with more appropriate behaviors.

Give your child something sweet or sour to suck on. If spitting fills a sensory need, try keeping her mouth busy with something else so she isn't as likely to spit. Sugar-free hard candy or chewing gum are options for youngsters who are old enough to have it in their mouths. Younger children usually like sugar-free gummy candy.

Talk to an occupational therapist who has experience working with children who have sensory processing problems. Sensory integration issues can affect behavior, therefore, an occupational therapist will identify your child’s sensory needs and offer suggestions that can help make him less anxious in his environment.

About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.