Skip to main content

Pica - eating non food items

Pica refers to eating or mouthing non-edible items, such as stones, dirt, metal, faeces.

The reason a person on the autism spectrum might experience pica could be medical, dietary, sensory or behavioural and include:

  • not understanding which items are edible and inedible
  • seeking out sensory input – the texture or the taste of the item
  • relieving anxiety or stress
  • relieving pain or discomfort
  • displaying a symptom of iron deficiency
  • a continuing of infant mouthing behaviour, or a later occurrence of the mouthing phase
  • seeking attention
  • avoiding a demand

You could try to:

  • set up a sorting activity for the person to sort edible and inedible items
  • use PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) to encourage the person to put appropriate items in their mouth and reward them
  • replace the inappropriate item with an appropriate alternative of a similar texture, eg a crunchy carrot stick, a chewy tube, popcorn, chewing gum
  • visit the GP or dentist to rule out any medical problems, oral pain or nutritional deficiencies, or to seek referral to an occupational therapist
  • increase the amount of structured activities in the person's day
  • respond as neutrally as possible when the behaviour occurs, giving a firm 'no' with little eye contact, reinforcing it with a symbol
  • reduce demands placed on the person
  • distract and divert their attention.

You could try to use a social story to reinforce the idea about not eating faeces. Social stories are short descriptions of a particular situation, event or activity, which include specific information about what to expect in that situation and why.

The National Autistic Society website has some useful information:

You could add pictures too if you feel this may help.

For example a social story about not eating faeces may include:

  • Don't eat the poo
  • Poo is dirty and smells bad
  • Don't touch the poo with my hands
  • Poo goes in the toilet
  • I sit on the toilet and poo into the toilet
  • If I want something to eat I ask for something that I can eat

(Adapted from

If you are reading this information from a print-out, you can visit the web page and find out more at


Back to top
Powered by Open Objects ©