Did you know that we can work on expanding food repertoires through ABA techniques? Many parents experience a child who they consider a picky eater. Perhaps they will only eat carbohydrates or only one type of protein. A limited diet can lead to a lack in proper nutrition, difficulty in making family meals, and going out to eat.
How can ABA help? Through reinforcement strategies, escape extinction, and a shaping technique (Gale et al, 2011).What does all that mean? Gradually increasing the requirement of a variety of foods (shaping) across sessions and utilizing either preferred food, items, or activities as a reinforcement for taking the required number of bites. Additionally, requiring the learner to stay at the table until the required number of bites have been consumed (escape extinction).
What happens if there is something they really dislike? That’s ok! Most of us have foods that we like, food we eat because we know it is good for us, and food that we refuse to eat despite the known benefits! We require learners to take at least one bite (and swallow it) across a variety of food items. Some of those foods never go beyond the one bite while we are able to increase other food items that are introduced for an entire portion.
What kinds of things can be used as reinforcers? Preferred food items are an ideal reinforcer as they will naturally be present across settings (Waitling & Schwartz, 2004). This may be dessert or a carbohydrate given following consumption of a non-preferred food item. If preferred food items are not effective, items or activities can also be used as reinforcement. Some examples are: a claw machine with prizes they can access, grab bags filled with dollar store items, and electronics time.
Should I use a reward such as a special outing? Research has shown that the most effective reinforcement is positive and immediate; especially when first increasing the behavior (Watling & Schwartz, 2004). Therefore, an outing would not be recommended. Reinforcement should be readily available upon successful consumption of required number of bites.
What types of foods can be worked on? Any food category including vegetables, soups, proteins, fruits, and carbohydrates.
References Gale, C. M., Eikeseth, S., & Rudrud, E. (2011). Functional assessment and behavioural intervention for eating difficulties in children with autism: A study conducted in the natural environment using parents and ABA tutors as therapists. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 41(10), 1383-96.doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.bsu.edu/10.1007/s10803-010- 1167-8
Watling, R., & Schwartz, I. S. (2004). Understanding and implementing positive reinforcement as an intervention strategy for children with disabilities. AJOT: American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 58(1),113+.