Smearing of Feces – How Common Is It?

Read any of the many anti-vaccine, alternative-medicine, or Autism Speaks message boards about autism and you’ll find that autistics have one disgusting habit that exemplifies the need to do anything, no matter what the risk, to cure us: we smear feces.

Everywhere.

I decided to test this theory.  I put up a poll and announced it on Facebook, on this topic.

The question?  “Did you or do you smear shit on walls, people, your clothing, etc? This does not include toileting accidents.”  I also added a note that I was looking only for answers from people who consider themselves autistic.  The survey was anonymous.

The results?  54 people filled out this survey. There were five options people could select:

  1. Yes and I routinely do this today: NOBODY selected this.
  2. Yes, but this was an act of protest confined to a certain time and place: ONE person selected this option.  So, at least one person did this because it would cause a scene, maybe for a good reason, maybe not, but clearly as a protest. This form of protest is hardly unique to autistic people  – the most extreme example I know of is the Dirty Protest.
  3. I did so at some point years ago as a teen or an adult but no longer do so: NOBODY selected this.
  4. I may have done so as a young child, but have not done so since: 9 people, or 17% of the sample, selected this option.  I want to discuss this below.
  5. No, I have not done this: 40 responses, or 74% of the sample.
  6. Other (with prompting for an explanation) elicited 4 responses.  The responses were two people who indicated they smeared poo once as a very young child and never did so again. One person indicated they can’t recall their childhood well so can’t rule it out, but also that they have never been told they did this, while the final person selecting this option said they did so as a toddler but not ever after that.

So, 74% of adult autistics, in this admittedly biased survey, are fairly sure they never smeared feces anywhere.  You may believe that a Facebook survey may be a bit biased towards non-typical autistics, but I remind you that if you accept the 1 in 68 number for prevalence of autistics, most autistics will grow up into adults who can read, write, and participate in online discourse.  You can’t cite this statistic and then dismiss everyone who doesn’t fit your expectations, the

What about the rest, particularly the 17% who said that they may have smeared feces as a young child? I suspect the majority of this is just people that are being honest about not knowing their childhood history. They might have, they might not have. This was a badly worded question, unfortunately.

Regardless, it’s clear that autistic adults – at least the 54 that answered the survey – don’t generally go around smearing feces after growing past the toddler stage.

And, you know what? Smearing feces as a toddler is not an unusual thing.  SeriouslyIt’s not.  Plenty of non-autistics do this.  Not everything is about autism. Even in an autistic.

Equally, it’s possible that some kids when toileting get poop on their hands – autistic or non-autistic those hands may be. And of course anyone who has seen a young child eat knows that once something gets on a kid’s hand, it gets everywhere. But that’s not necessarily bad behavior or anything to do with autism – nor is it necessarily “fecal smearing.”

Now, I’m not saying it’s fun, healthy, or pleasant to clean up someone’s fecal matter.  It’s not. It is disgusting. It smells, it’s gross, and it’s full of potentially harmful bacteria.  It’s something that parents do need to work with their kids to stop when it happens – autistic or not. And certainly this behavior – as is seen from this survey of 54 presumably adult autistic people – is not normal in an adult or teenager, autistic or not.

But, too often, woe-is-me parent boards are full of people seemingly trying to shock and outdo the next parent. “You think raising your daughter is hard? Mine smears shit everywhere!” It’s a combination of competition and proving that you have a right to be frustrated – that your child really is that bad. Your child has real autism, you see.

Want a hint? All parents have cleaned up shit. Nobody likes it.

Another strange thing? This connection – without documentation – between fecal smearing and autism is so strong that parents who have typically developing kids who smear feces (it’s a rather normal, albeit disgusting, phase many people go through growing up) are now terrified that their kids have autism. That’s just one part of how screwed up this kind of thing makes people – not only is something that is relatively normal for a kid to do (albeit gross and unhealthy) now seen as unusual, but it’s autism and everyone knows that’s horrible (okay, that last part is sarcasm).

Go, autism awareness! We’ve made people aware of something that has no apparent actual measured connection to autism, as if it is a key symptom of autism. And that something is relatively normal for neurotypical toddlers to engage in. Autism awareness messages have both scared parents of normal kids that their kids are autistic (no, this is not a sign of autism) and showed how disgusting us autistic people are. Go awareness! Perhaps that’s one more reason I hate this month of autism awareness. If I tell people I’m autistic, are they going to be scared to touch me, as I may be covered in the feces I was supposedly smearing?

This awareness has actually quantified a key element in lots of discrimination: that people who are the targets of discrimination are disease carriers and dirty. You see that in Nazi propaganda. You see that in racism. You see that in LGBT bigotry. The people discriminated against are dirty and diseased. As you would be if you were covered in feces.

Now I know not all parents are full of the woe-is-me attitude so common on too many online forums – and for that I applaud you for seeing your children as something other than an unjust punishment. If you aren’t in the woe-is-me group, please be assured I am not talking about you and that I respect both the joys and trials you go through to raise a kid – any kid.

In the meantime, I’d love to see this studied more in depth, with real scientific rigor (unlike my survey which was created as much in tongue-and-cheek frustration as a desire to find out if there may be validity to the overemphasis on feces among too many autism parents). I’d love to find out one thing – do autistic kids actually do this more often than non-autistic kids?  I suspect the answer would surprise some, but probably not actual autistic people.

Of course if people know of actual quantitative studies of this, I’d love to know about them. I’m not interested in case studies – I’ve seen plenty of those.

 

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