Toddler Playing With Poop Sign Of Autism? The Truth Behind Scatolia

Fecal smearing is a gross comical stage that babies go through. But when it happens to toddlers, it can change the feeling from funny to worry. Fortunately, it is completely normal in toddlers, and they will learn to outgrow it in time. It is at this stage where they become more curious about their environment and body processes. So when your child somehow turns his poop into playdough, it is the best time to start potty training.

But fecal smearing or scatolia in older kids may be a warning sign of autism and behavioral problems.

It’s often due to medical, behavioral, or sensory reasons, and tackling it depends on the specific cause. Bodysuits and restrictive clothing are beneficial in preventing them from making a toy out of their poop.

Parents will also need to identify the behavior that warrants this action to act promptly against it.

4 causes of fecal smearing and how to deal with them

Persons with developmental delay or those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders may exhibit fecal smearing.

That said, it is not only prevalent in toddlers but also in a percentage of adults. So yes, it is unhygienic and quite upsetting for parents and caregivers.

But often, fecal smearing and rectal digging are common signs of autism in OLDER children.  

1. Potty training difficulty

A toddler boy is sitting on a portable potty, trying to get comfortable using it.

When your child reaches 3 to 4 years old, he should already know how to use the toilet. But the potty-training timeline varies in each toddler’s milestone since every kid develops differently.

When your little one reaches 18 months, he is likely ready for the potty since it is the average timeline. During this period, children are also beginning to differentiate between clean and dirty.

Toddlers who pick poop out of their diapers are either curious or just hate the feeling of being dirty.

Setting up a toilet routine and gradually teaching your child to clean himself can tackle potty training difficulties.

2. Autism and sensory problems

Fecal smearing is also linked to autism in other children. In addition, sensory problems will trigger scatolia, such as when toddlers do not have access to a sensory outlet.

Children with autism may experience pleasure in either the smell or texture of their poop. They would seek out the sensation from the texture and the movement of their arms and fingers while smearing.

Restrictive clothing like onesies will prevent the toddler’s access to his diaper. To aid in sensory problems, you can introduce toys with a similar texture like playdough, clay, or sand.

Finger-painting and other smearing activities may also help wean them out of the problem.

3. Behavioral problems

It is also possible for kids to play with their poop if they want immediate attention. They know that by doing so, they will surely get all the attention that they need – almost instantly.

Sometimes, a child may use it as a technique for delaying events. Others may do it simply for the pleasure of seeing their parents going ballistic.  

Showing fewer reactions or maintaining a neutral manner while dealing with their gross behavior will solve behavioral fecal smearing. Clean up quietly so that your child will realize he will not get any attention at all with his mischief.

4. Medical causes

If a child has a protozoal infection, it may elicit rectal digging and poop smearing. If he has tummy pain, constipation, or other abdominal discomforts, he will also act in any way to alleviate it. If your doctor can rule out the medical condition behind scatolia, he can treat the condition before it progresses.


At what age should I worry about fecal smearing?

If your child is between 3 ½ to 4 years old, consult your physician to rule out possible causes of scatolia.

Is scatolia treatable?    

Fecal smearing, even in children with autism, is treatable. But you will need to identify the behavior that leads them up to the action and the consequence you think they want to achieve.

Even fecal smearing due to medical causes can be cured by treating the root cause of the problem.


Fecal smearing is pretty normal for toddlers who are developing their sensory and perception processes.

For older children, it may denote autism and can be dealt with accordingly through supportive activities and restrictive clothing. It can be gross, but parents should remember never to give in to a temper.

Kids who seek attention will always find their satisfaction in it if you overreact and vent out every time.

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Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She experienced handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also trained in labor rooms and pediatric wards while in nursing school - helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.

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