Quick read guide to self-injurious behaviour with a complete information sheet available to download. Find out what it is, how you can get help with this kind of behaviour, and about medication and protective devices.
Spitting is something that many people find disgusting or disrespectful, so we need to support people with learning disabilities to avoid spitting.
Why might people spit?
If your family member is spitting in a way that’s socially unacceptable, it is important to know if it is saliva or is it phlegm. It is also important to understand if s/he has a medical condition that means that s/he produces too much saliva/phlegm? If this is not the case, there will be another reason. To find that out, you can ask yourself questions about when, where, and with whom, the spitting occurs, and what happens afterwards. Look for patterns of what happened when they were spitting – this might give you an idea of the reasons (or ‘functions’) of their spitting behaviour.
What can you do about it?
If you think that there may be a medical reason why your relative’s producing (too much) saliva or phlegm, seek medical advice about how to reduce it. If this is the case, unless/until the excess saliva or phlegm can be reduced or stopped medically, see if you can get your family member to spit into a disposable tissue, carrying the tissues yourself and offering lots of praise, also paying as little attention as possible when your family member spits elsewhere other than into the tissue.
Once you have an understanding of why your family member is spitting, you can think about how best to respond. This might include:
- offering alternative ways for them to get your attention
- offering other ways to signal that they don’t want to do a particular activity or that they want it to end
- offering similar activities for amusement
- or giving them as little attention as possible after spitting.
Ignoring spitting that’s been going on for a long time is unlikely to work and may make things worse. So, instead, pay the spitting as little attention as possible, whilst giving your relative lots of attention and praise for more appropriate ways of behaving.
For more information see the full version information sheet Spitting: