Tip Of The Week: Food Selectivity

In this month’s ASAT feature, Jill K Belchic-Schwartz PhD offers helpful hints for assessing and treating food selectivity. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

I am a behavior analyst working with a 6-year-old child with a very limited food repertoire. Do you have any assessment and treatment recommendations that can guide my efforts to address this area?

Food selectivity is a fairly common issue with children who have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Many children who have been diagnosed with an ASD have difficulties with rigidity and a need for sameness, and this holds true for their food preferences as well. This can be very distressing for parents and caregivers.

Prior to initiating a feeding intervention, it is important to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be perpetuating the child’s feeding difficulties. Common medical concerns include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and/or food allergies or intolerances. Any underlying medical issues should be treated prior to implementing a feeding program. Once any medical treatment is underway, you can begin to tackle the child’s food selectivity from a behavioral standpoint. If a multidisciplinary feeding clinic is nearby, encourage the parents of the child with whom you are working to consider scheduling an appointment for him/her to be evaluated.

When treating any child with food selectivity, the first step is to take a very detailed feeding history. Ask about the child’s first experiences with breast or bottle feeding, transitioning to baby food and how they handled the transition to more highly textured foods. Get a current detailed feeding diary. It is also very important to gather information about the setting in which the child eats. Does he sit at the kitchen table for all meals or is he allowed to graze throughout the day? Are mealtimes predictable and do they occur at regularly scheduled intervals and at the same time each day? Is the child “brand specific” and eat only a specific brand of food? Will the child eat only one flavor (e.g., strawberry/banana yogurt)? How is the food presented? How long is a typical meal? What are the child’s refusal behaviors? The more specific the information the better!

There are a variety of techniques available that can be helpful in expanding a child’s food repertoire. However, in order to identify the most appropriate treatment, you must first understand the etiology of the selectivity. For instance, is the child’s food selectivity due to a frank refusal to try all new foods or is it due to a failure to progress to more advanced food textures? The food refusal behavior may look the same (e.g., screaming, hitting, spitting out food, etc.), but the treatment would be quite different based on this information.

Once you are satisfied with your assessment, treatment can begin. Try to stick to a daily predictable schedule of meals and snacks and eliminate grazing/snacking in between meals. Hunger can be a powerful motivator! It is also important to limit the child’s access to liquids in between meals, as some children prefer to drink rather than eat. Set a 15-20 minute time limit for meals. When introducing new foods for the first time, it is usually helpful to start with a “formerly preferred food,” that is, a food that the child used to eat or a food that is similar in taste/texture to something he currently eats.

When presenting the “new” food to the child, start with a very small bite of the new food (e.g., sometimes as small as a pencil point) so as not to overwhelm the child and to ensure a greater likelihood of success. Some feeding therapists use the child’s preferred food as a “reward” for eating the “non-preferred” food, while others use toys/activities as a reward for tasting the new food. What works for one child may not necessarily work for another. Therefore, in order to find the most salient motivators, several different options will likely need to be explored. Additionally, reward systems may need to be changed periodically in order to maintain their effectiveness.

When introducing new foods to a child, it is often easier to start with naturally occurring pureed or smooth foods first (e.g., yogurt, applesauce). The reasoning behind this suggestion is that once the child accepts a bite of pureed food into his mouth, swallowing it is almost guaranteed. With a piece of chopped food, the child may accept the bite into his mouth, but chewing and swallowing may not necessarily occur, and the child may expel the food. For instance, suppose you are introducing fruits and/or vegetables to a child who eats only carbohydrates. The child is more likely to demonstrate success with a one-fourth teaspoon of applesauce than he or she would with a bite of an actual apple. Once the child is accepting a ¼ teaspoon of applesauce consistently (e.g., nine out of ten opportunities), you can begin to increase the bite size to ½ teaspoon. Moving along in a systematic and stepwise fashion ensures a greater likelihood of success. Additional foods can be introduced in a similar fashion once the child is eating a reasonable volume of the new food.

Food selectivity is just one example of feeding problems that may be experienced by children on the autism spectrum. These difficulties often pose a significant challenge to parents, as nourishing our children is expected to be one of the easier, and more enjoyable, tasks of parenthood. Help is available for parents experiencing this challenge, and behavior analysts are a great resource for assessing and treating these disorders because of their specific skill sets in understanding behavior and motivation. For more detailed information, a great resource is, “Treating Eating Problems of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities” by Keith E. Williams and Richard M. Foxx.

References

Williams, K. E. & Foxx, R. M. (2007). Treating Eating Problems of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Developmental Disabilities. New York, New York: Pro-Ed Inc.

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Belchic-Schwartz, J. (2011). Clinical corner: Food selectivity. Science in Autism Treatment, 8(3), 11-12.


About The Author

Jill K. Belchic-Schwartz, PhD is a Licensed Psychologist who received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Rutgers University in 1995. Dr. Belchic completed her pre-doctoral internship in pediatric psychology at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where she remained on staff­ for seven years. While at CHOP, she co-directed the Regional Autism Center and was a Program Manager in The Feeding and Swallowing Center. Dr. Belchic’s specialty areas include early assessment of developmental diff­erences, including language delay and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). She also provides psychoeducational assessments for children/adolescents who are struggling in school. She provides community-based consultation and treatment for kids with a variety of psychosocial issues. Dr. Belchic has been in private practice since 2004 and is a partner in Childhood Solutions, PC.

What Autism Awareness Should be About

In this month’s ASAT feature, Executive Director David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, offer, OPs his thoughts on expanding autism awareness once April has ended. To learn more about ASAT, please visit their website at www.asatonline.org. You can also sign up for ASAT’s free newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment, and like them on Facebook!

Autism Awareness Month will soon come to a close. The blue puzzle pieces will disappear from Facebook pages and billboards, the media will focus their attention on other topics of interest, and we will return to business as usual. And business as usual is not OK, particularly given that so many children and adults with autism are not accessing the most effective, science-based interventions that will allow them to realize their fullest potentials.

When I first entered the field over twenty-five years ago, autism was considered a rare condition. When people asked what I did for a living, they often misheard me and thought I worked with “artistic” children. Today, autism is no longer the rare diagnosis that impacts someone else’s child. Our extended families, our neighbors, and our co-workers are now all touched by autism. With 1 in 68 children receiving a diagnosis, the sheer number of individuals with autism is staggering and heightens awareness in and of itself.

For many conditions, awareness is key because awareness promotes detection, and with detection comes a relatively clear path towards treatment. Take, for example, conditions such as Lyme disease and many forms of cancer. Better prognoses are attached to early detection. Within a few short weeks of detection and diagnosis, patients typically receive science-based treatment. If their conditions are not detected early, then access to such treatments is delayed and their conditions will likely worsen. In the world of autism, detection is not the “be all and end all.” We do not just have a detection issue in autism, but also, and perhaps more importantly, we have an intervention issue.

It is my hope that the conversation about autism awareness will be broadened to focus upon and overcome the obstacles that separate individuals with autism from effective, science-based intervention, and that those that separate their families, caregivers, and teachers from accurate information about autism intervention.

I leave you with 10 ideas about what “autism awareness” should be about.

  1. “Autism Awareness” should recognize the need to differentiate effective treatments that are scientifically validated from the plethora of “therapies” and “cures” lacking scientific support. Autism treatment has become a multi-million dollar industry with 500+ alleged treatments and thus, science sadly placed on the back burner. This means that heart wrenching testimonials, surveys that are pawned off as scientific research, and outrageous claims abound, making it challenging for parents to determine the best course of action for their child. The aggressive marketing of these “therapies” and “cures” is absolutely overwhelming for parents who are desperate for accurate information to help their children realize their fullest potential. For most other medical conditions, a provider that disregards proven intervention and uses a fringe treatment may actually be sued for malpractice. Such safeguards are not yet well established for autism treatment.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must recognize the responsibility that we have, as a society, to make sound choices.I use the term “society” given the myriad of stakeholders who make critically important decisions for persons with autism – not just parents, but siblings, teachers, treatment providers, administrators, program coordinators, elected officials and even tax payers. Decision-making power comes with tremendous responsibility. There are far too many individuals with autism who are not receiving effective treatment, are receiving ineffective treatment, or are subjected to treatments that are, in fact, dangerous. Every minute of ineffective intervention is one less minute spent accessing effective intervention.   Choices made have profound implications.

 

* Please see the questions that appear at the end of this article to promote more careful decision making at http://www.asatonline.org/pdf/roadless.pdf

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must recognize that available information (and information providers) varies greatly in accuracy.As we know, not all information on the Internet is reliable and accurate. Often Internet information is deemed equivalent in relevance, importance, and validity, to research published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. It is not.

 

  1. Autism Awareness” must include careful and responsible reporting by journalistsThere are dozens of “miracle cures” and “breakthroughs” for autism that receive widespread media attention, even if they have not been proven effective. Unfortunately, treatments actually shown to be effective typically receive the least amount of media attention. It is hard to imagine that things will improve dramatically for the autism community in the absence of more accurate representations of autism treatment in the media.

 

* You will find examples of accurate and inaccurate reporting at http://www.asatonline.org/for-media-professionals/about-media-watch/ ASAT is undertaking proactive steps to enhance accuracy in media reporting.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should recognize the critical need for newly diagnosed children to access effective treatment as soon as possible.We also know that we have a limited window of time to prepare children for the least restrictive setting once they enter public school. The fact that resources allocated early can save a tremendous amount of resources over an individual’s lifespan does not always enter the conversation when evaluating costs and benefits. That must change.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should also instill hope for a better tomorrow for those individuals who are not part of the “best outcome” group.With the right treatment, individuals with autism can lead happy and fulfilling lives. Research indicates that interventions such as applied behavior analysis (ABA) can effectively help children and adults with autism realize their fullest potential. The conversation about “cure” often delegitimizes and derails important conversations about how we can help individuals with autism live and work independently, develop meaningful and sustainable relationships, reduce challenging behaviors that may limit opportunities, access faith communities, and enjoy the array of recreational pursuits that are available within their communities. Those are important conversations to have.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must mandate accountability from all treatment providers. Accountability involves a shared commitment to objectively defined targets, data collection, and respect for the scientific method. It is every provider’s responsibility to objectively measure outcomes regardless of their discipline. No one should get a pass on accountability. No one is immune from defining their target and objectively measuring progress. No one should get away with implementing their intervention carelessly and in no-transparent manner. No one should be permitted to boast claims that they cannot demonstrate through data. These unfortunate realities should not be tolerated.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” must involve recognition that an abundance of clinical research already exists.Too often the plethora of peer-reviewed research that could guide and inform treatment efforts is disregarded altogether. If treatment providers and consumers are interested in published research on diverse topics such as improving conversation skills, promoting academic skills, eliminating pica, or developing tolerance for dental procedures, they can find it. Thousands of researchers have worked hard at publishing their findings in peer reviewed journals and their findings are often overshadowed by a media that practices sensationalism to provide consumers with information about the “next big thing” in autism treatment.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should help us identify and overcome the barriers that face our families everyday.Not every child with autism is invited to birthday parties. Not every faith community welcomes families of children with autism. Not every school provides meaningful contact between students with autism and their typically developing peers. Not every community provides recreational opportunities for individuals with autism. The absence of these opportunities is both a function of misinformation about autism and the lack of awareness about the successful efforts of others who have overcome such barriers. With 1 in 68 children being diagnosed, every facet of society would benefit from evaluating what they are doing, what they are not doing, and what they could be doing differently.

 

  1. “Autism Awareness” should be about the reality that the hundreds of thousands of children with autism will soon become hundreds of thousands of young adults with autism. We are facing a crisis in the field with a scarcity of services for adults with autism and the absence of a clear strategy for closing the gap between the ever increasing need, and an unprepared supply of resources. The Association for Science in Autism Treatment has committed to broadening its scope to be a part of an important dialogue about adults with autism.

We all play a role in bettering the lives of individuals with autism and helping their families and supporters become skilled and savvy consumers. Embrace that role with an eye toward identifying what additional steps you can take to become a contributor to important conversations and an even bigger part of the solution.

 


David Celiberti, PhD, BCBA-D, is the part time Executive Director of ASAT and Past-President, a role he served from 2006 and 2012. He is the Co-Editor of ASAT’s newsletter, Science in Autism Treatment. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Rutgers University in 1993. Dr. Celiberti has served on a number of advisory boards and special interest groups in the field of autism, applied behavior analysis, and early childhood education, and been an active participant in local fundraising initiatives to support after school programming for economically disadvantaged children. He works in private practice and provides consultation to public and private schools and agencies in underserved areas. He has authored several articles in professional journals and presents frequently at regional, national, and international conferences. In prior positions, Dr. Celiberti taught courses related to applied behavior analysis (ABA) at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, supervised individuals pursuing BCBA certifications, and conducted research in the areas of ABA, family intervention, and autism.

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It Takes a Team: 4 Steps to Building a Stronger Therapy Team

For students on the Autism spectrum, having a strong and reliable therapy team to support individual needs can be an important factor in student success. When members of a therapy team are collaborating seamlessly, a student is more likely to have high quality support across all areas of development (communication, social, cognitive, play, motor, and adaptive skills).

mixed working group looking at laptopThe pervasive nature of ASD across these areas means that multiple disciplines are necessarily involved in effective intervention (Donaldson and Stahmer, 2014). When we work together and have a narrow focus, we can help our students make a great deal of progress. Gone are the days of a Speech Language Pathologist, Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist taking a student away for traditional pull out therapy and leaving no time for debriefing with the classroom team.

Who comprises the therapy team is determined on a case-by-case basis. You may be wondering where to start with this sometimes daunting task of building a strong and supportive team. Below I will discuss some strategies that are evidenced-based and the ways that I incorporate them into my busy life as a speech language pathologist.

Pairing
One of the first things that I always try to do is build rapport with staff, which is known as a behavioral principle called pairing. It is important to build rapport and/or pair with team members, especially if you are new to the team or if other new members have joined. It may sound like very basic advice, but as clinicians we are very busy and sometimes we feel that we do not have time for this piece. I am urging you to put this time with staff on the top of your priority list. Once you have a good rapport with team members, it allows you to share ideas and collaborate more easily and more effectively.

Sharing
The next tip I have is to share the goals your student is working on. If you are the teacher, share the student’s IEP goals with the paraprofessionals and explain why you are teaching particular tasks. Knowledge is power! If you are the occupational therapist, please share your student’s therapy goals with the team. Therapy takes place all day, across settings and across instructors. If the team does not know what the goals are, they will have no idea how to address them across the school day.

Reinforcement
Students and professionals benefit from reinforcement! People feel good about the work at hand when they receive positive reinforcement. Let the paraprofessional know that they are doing a great job with their student(s). Everyone likes to get praise for a job well done!

Data
Another way that we can assure that our collaboration is helping the student is by collecting daily data on skills from all domains (i.e. behavior, academic, communication). When we, as a team, create a data sheet that captures the skills and specific targets we are addressing, we can use this across the student’s day. When we take this data and analyze the progress, we can all make informed decisions about a student’s programming needs. I have included a free team-based daily data sheet from Stages Learning. You can use this data sheet to track a variety of skills.

In my 14 years practicing in the field, the majority of people that I encounter are driven by a desire to see their students. However, even with the best intentions, we may face barriers in collaborating with other staff members. Follow the tips mentioned above and reach out to colleagues who seem to need additional support. I try to continually assess the needs of the teams I work with throughout the year. Maybe the team needs a refresher on a certain skill area – see if you can work this into your yearly professional development time. When we work together as a team, we can help so many students achieve their goals!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

rosemarie-griffin-headshotRosemarie Griffin, MA, CCC-SLP, BCBA is a licensed speech language pathologist and board certified behavior analyst. Currently she splits her time between a public school system and a private school for students with autism. She is passionate about lecturing on effective communication services for students with autism and has done so at the local and national level. Rosemarie also enjoys spending time with her family, playing the harp and shopping.

Article originally posted on Stages Learning Materials Blog.

iPad and Autism?

As a home-based Early Intervention provider traveling to various locations throughout New York City each day, I find my iPhone to be invaluable. It is quite possibly the best “business” expense of my career. It lurks in my bag as a secret weapon of motivation and reinforcement where once a gaggle of heavy and semi-effective toys resided.

With the huge presence that technology has in our lives today it is only inevitable that some gadgets make their way into therapeutic endeavors. While there are negative effects to being plugged in all of the time, it’s hard for me to ignore those moments where technology allows a child to learn something that had been previously difficult or the amazing instances of joint attention that can be facilitated by using these apps. Without a doubt, I’m sold on the fact that the new gadgets with touch screens will continue to be an invaluable tool moving forward in my work with children. However, I can’t silence the little contradictory voice in my head telling me that teaching happens in real life, not on a screen.

Therefore, I use my iPhone in therapy sessions with children sparingly. I am the one setting limits on usage and modeling durations of time that are reasonable and appropriate. Approximately 90% of the apps I use are educational and present great opportunities for the generalization of skills taught using DTT or NET methods. I have also downloaded social skills training videos that have facilitated preparation for things like going to get a haircut. Even though that tiny voice still lurks in the back of my head, the more I read and hear, I am beginning to think that the consensus of people in this community is mainly positive.

I am most excited about programs such as Proloquo2Go, which use the iPad as a more portable and user-friendly augmentative communication device. Not unlike the endless list of apps, the uses are never-ending as well, as outlined in a great article in the SF weekly from August 11, 2010. The iPad and various apps are helping therapists and parents teach children how to draw, write, communicate, read, spell, count, and increase independence through visual schedules.

Using technology hasn’t compromised what or how much I am able to teach. It has enhanced my sessions. How do you feel about it?