Polly's pages (aka 'Donna Williams')

Ever the arty Autie

Let’s Stop Calling it ‘the Autism’ – Autism and poo smearing


Morph by Donna Williams  Now the topic might totally turn you off, but a percentage of so called ‘low functioning’ kids with autism engage in this obsessively, occasionally even into adulthood.  In fact Temple Grandin cites herself as having been one of those children, not a feces eater but a thrower and a smearer, which she recalls as being associated with tantruming.

Along with obsessive masturbation, smearing feces is one of the behaviors most cited as one of the horrors of ‘low functioning autistics’.  You might try to imagine what it’s like for such families, cleaning feces off their child’s face, eyes, out of their child’s mouth, off the walls, the furniture, the bedding, the awareness it’s all under the child’s fingernails and passing bugs, that ingesting it may even ultimately reduce the health and lifespan the child.  But how autistic is it?

Interestingly, those with autism may develop all manner of obsessions, fixations, phobias, euphorias.  I would get blissed to the max on seeing pink street lights, red patent leather (pale pink does it too), chandeliers, opaque green fluoro plastic.  So is poo smearing ever part of a range of fixations?  YES.  Like most issues called ‘the autism’, compulsive and obsessive poo smearing has its own name; Coprogenics.

Coprogenics involves the eating and smearing of feces for pleasure and surprisingly, 1% of the human population have apparently engaged in it at some time!

Without boring you with a link off to the Urban Dictionary (a little too colorful for some and hardly a medical resource), here’s a series of quotes from it:

Coprogenics should not be confused with Coprophilia which is a deep love for feces, which might involve the smearing or storage or loving attention being given to feces.

Coprogenics is essentially the eating of feces and digestion of human feces, often seen by mentally subnormal, or else their close relative ‘the genius’. W.A. Mozart was a feces eater, it eventually killed him in this thirties.

Eating feces is not uncommon and it is estimated that 1% of humans have indulged in this activity. Recent studies show that Danish, Japanese and Philippine nationals indulge in this activity, secretly, asian women particularly seem to enjoy eating feces although this is only 1.6% of the population. 

So why might Coprogenics be more common in some with mental illness or severe developmental disability?  Even some imprisoned, sensorily deprived animals do it.

Is it possible that these things contribute to a reduced level of inhibition to a human behavior 1% of the population may have indulged in with conscious volition?  Is it possible that in the absence of cohesive cognitive functions, or in the presence of sensory deprivations associated with severe sensory perceptual or communication deficits that some individuals entertain, even arouse themselves with something as primary as poo smearing, even eating their own feces.

I’ve been to the homes of poo smearing kids.  When they’ve got this muck all over them, even in their eye area and mouth, they are generally quite content, sometimes even smiling.    Perhaps its about time we looked at how to compete with their motivation toward Coprogenics so that something else might be as familiar, as rewarding, as their own feces.

By contrast, those with severe Exposure Anxiety have employed poo smearing to rid themselves of social entanglement, human proximity, and social invasion of their room and those with EA may also find incontinence can be preferable to the social intrusions of supervised toileting.  But these people don’t appear blissed out by smearing and when the EA is countered these behaviors go.

As for when smearing/eating feces has become such a pattern it is an addiction then that is probably beyond the exhaustion and scope of a parent… inpatient psychiatric units goes to work on breaking addictive behavior cycles whether its vomiting, self injury, addiction. So when a behavior has become so compulsive and addictive, it could be worth asking about an pediatric inpatient psych clinic to specifically go to work on this addiction for 4-6 weeks until at least the habit that is so ‘home’ has at least been broken enough to gain some emotional/identity distance from it and have a chance to fill that gap with something less of a health risk, preferably actual toileting.

The simplistic assumption that poo smearers are just stimming, or having sensory fixations with the texture, smell, taste, overlooks the emotional gratification of being boss, having control, keeping the unwanted behaviors as one’s own sense of power/territory. It overlooks powerful motivators like addiction to routine and addictive investment of identity in routine once feces related routines are entrenched. These are then habit, and habits have associated emotional/identity rewards, as linked to biochemistry reinforcements as any amount of smell, texture, taste. We also eat foods that have EMOTIONAL associations, habits, routines, familiar packaging, even if the food is actually not otherwise ‘our thing’. Compulsion versus want, patterning and habit and addiction and identification versus what might emerge as one’s actual want if not driven by habit, compulsion, identification. Illustrating the point, if YOU dished up a feces sandwich for an otherwise fussy eater who also happened to be a feces eater, do you think they’d actually want it if it were YOUR decision they eat it?

Donna Williams, Dip Ed, BA Hons.
Author, artist, singer-songwriter, screenwriter.
Autism consultant and public speaker.

Ever the arty Autie.