Strategies Which Address Purposeful Spitting

Definition:

When a child cannot manage saliva in his mouth, there is likely a physical or medical reason for this and should be addressed by the appropriate professional which may include:  Pediatrician, Ear Nose & Throat Specialist, Speech Pathologist or Occupational Therapist.

 

For the issue of keeping saliva in his mouth, please seek feedback from the student’s speech pathologist who can conduct an oral motor evaluation, an occupational therapist and/or a  referral to a medical professional may be warranted.  In some cases, a student may benefit from a visual cue to close his mouth and swallow more often or need some type of bandana or towel to have available to wipe his mouth.  It is important to rule out any medical issues prior to trying a new technique.

 

For the purpose of this answer, we will address purposeful spitting. When a child purposely spits on others, it is a learned maladaptive behavior and can be addressed by teaching an appropriate replacement behavior, positive reinforcement of the new behavior and if necessary, imposing  consequences for the spitting behavior (e.g. loss of privilege, time out or cleaning an area spit on).

Situation:

I have a student who can not keep his spit in his mouth, but he will also purposely spit on his peers.  Do you have any suggestions?

  • Situation

    I have a student who can not keep his spit in his mouth, but he will also purposely spit on his peers.  Do you have any suggestions?

  • Summary

    Both purposeful spitting and difficulty managing saliva (drooling) are behaviors  that may be seen in some students with disabilities.  It is important to distinguish the two as one may be related to low muscle tone or other physical issues.  For example, a child may be a mouth breather due to larger adenoids or tonsils or have oral motor weakness due to other physical problems which may make it difficult to close his lips and manage his saliva.  Purposeful spitting on the other hand, is behavioral in that the student is using the spitting to communicate a need or solve a problem in a maladaptive way.

  • Definition

    When a child cannot manage saliva in his mouth, there is likely a physical or medical reason for this and should be addressed by the appropriate professional which may include:  Pediatrician, Ear Nose & Throat Specialist, Speech Pathologist or Occupational Therapist.

     

    For the issue of keeping saliva in his mouth, please seek feedback from the student’s speech pathologist who can conduct an oral motor evaluation, an occupational therapist and/or a  referral to a medical professional may be warranted.  In some cases, a student may benefit from a visual cue to close his mouth and swallow more often or need some type of bandana or towel to have available to wipe his mouth.  It is important to rule out any medical issues prior to trying a new technique.

     

    For the purpose of this answer, we will address purposeful spitting. When a child purposely spits on others, it is a learned maladaptive behavior and can be addressed by teaching an appropriate replacement behavior, positive reinforcement of the new behavior and if necessary, imposing  consequences for the spitting behavior (e.g. loss of privilege, time out or cleaning an area spit on).

  • Quick Facts
    • Child’s Age: 6-10,
    • Planning Effort: Moderate
    • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Pre-requisites

    Child should understand simple directions, be able to distinguish between right and wrong or “green” or “red” choices and have the skills to complete the replacement behavior/s you will teach.

     

    Child should understand that earning tokens for positive behavior can lead to gaining a preferred item/activity if a token system is to be used. 

  • Process
    1. Collect data to determine the possible function of spitting. For example, is it to gain attention or avoid certain activities?  A simple ABC Chart(see Resources) can easily be marked after each occurrence of spitting to determine in which instances spitting is more likely to occur and what is maintaining the behavior.   For example if the student spits when he has to give up a preferred item, you may want to teach him to say,  “I want it longer.” or “2 more minutes please” as an alternative behavior or to give up the item in response to a visual timer as the preferred behavior.  Follow use of appropriate behavior with  positive reinforcement (tangible/verbal).

    2. Teach the student the appropriate social/communication skills that he is lacking so that he does not resort to spitting.  For example, you may teach: turn-taking, asking to play, asking for a break, saying no, or waiting.

    3. Use Behavior Stories or other visuals (see Resources below) to teach alternatives to spitting and the consequences for both spitting and the use of newly learned skills such as “asking for a break”. 

    4. A tangible reward system, such as a reinforcement tower (see Resources below) or token system is a great way to reward appropriate behavior (in this case, using an alternative to spitting).

    5. If the behavior continues with no change after 4 weeks of intervention, a more thorough functional behavioral assessment may be warranted.

  • Documents and Related Resources

5 thoughts on “Strategies Which Address Purposeful Spitting

    1. This related answer “Oral Motor Activities and Engagement to Reduce Licking” may provide the additional resources you are requesting.

    1. Thank you for your interest in Watson Life Resources. Regardless of the population of children who may engage in this behavior, the current answer should provide you with some effective strategies. As stated above you may first want to have it addressed by a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, or someone in the medical profession to rule out physical reasons. Once completing your own ABC charting to determine any behavioral functions, you may find that the strategies should help to decrease the behavior of concern. Resources listed at the end of the answer provide additional supports.

  1. I have a student that is not spitting on others, but is spitting into his shirt. His shirt is 1/2 wet by the time the days ends. I tried a replacement behavior of chap stick and a water bottle. The chap stick worked for a few days, but he decided he didn’t want to use it anymore, threw it away and began spitting into his shirt again. When asked why he spits, he said he has a bad taste in his mouth and his mouth is dry. I brought a bottle of water in for him to ask for instead of spitting. He put the water in his mouth, then spit it out on his shirt. This is a regular ed student in first grade. We can seem to find no function for the behavior. It happens at different times, with different frequencies.

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