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+.
Grocery store meltdowns are a right of passage as a parent. Most parents, no matter if their child is developmentally delayed or not, have been in this situation. Meltdowns are never easy to deal with, especially in public, but with the right preparation they can be avoided. Below we’ve compiled a few tips to help prevent public meltdowns, whether it is at the grocery store or any other public place.
Tips for Preventing Public Meltdowns START SMALL. Don’t immediately throw your child into a situation where you’re grocery shopping for 45 minutes in a huge, crowded store. When you’re first starting out, go to smaller stores and plan to only get 2-5 items. As your child starts to tolerate these outings and both you and your child are learning to better handle any meltdowns, you can start to gradually increase the time you’re spending in stores. PREPARE. Always make sure you have a plan prior to going to the store. The type of planning that you do will depend on a few factors: how old your child is and what their communication level is. Some children do well with utilizing visuals, while others do great with written lists. Always make sure you have tangible or edible reinforcers available, such as stickers, fruit snacks, iPad, etc. You want to make sure you’re able to immediately reinforce their appropriate behaviors! Prior to going into the store you can review your expectations with your child, letting them know where you’re going, what job they’re going to complete while there, and what they can earn. KEEP THEM BUSY. Give your child a job to do while you’re at the store. They can help you find items, get items off the shelf, put items in the cart, push the cart, etc. This is a good time to work on some of the skills the child is working on during therapy. For example, if your child is working on matching skills, then you can have them look at a visual grocery list of a picture of an apple, and then have them find the apple in the store. You can even turn it into a scavenger hunt using “WH” questions or other feature, function, class intraverbals (e.g. “We’re looking for something you eat that is yellow and has a peel”.) These will depend on your child’s age and skill level. Make sure to reinforce your child’s behavior! Provide lots of praise and some of the reinforcers that you brought with you. WHY. Start looking at the contingencies in place and assessing why your child is acting out. Does your child tantrum because they want candy? Or is it during checkout when they’re having to wait for everything to be checked out and paid for? Do they cry because they want to sit in the cart or because they don’t want to be sitting in the cart? When you start to really pay attention to the different situations in which your child acts out, you can modify how you approach the situation. Examples: If your child wants candy each time you’re at the store, then you can bring skittles with you to the store and provide them skittles for behaving appropriately through the store (i.e. walking, completing jobs, etc.). If they don’t behave appropriately, then you can withhold the skittles and promptly leave the store. If your child starts to tantrum when you’re waiting to check out, then give them a task to do in order to relieve boredom. Have them help put the items from the cart onto the counter. What NOT to do: DON’T Avoid the grocery store altogether. It is important to continue to take your child into the community in order to teach them how to navigate these situations and teach them how to make better choices. DON’T Think you’re alone in having to deal with tantrums in a public location. Most parents of any child (nonvocal or vocal, developmental delays or not) have been in your same situation. Just remember that even though others may start to stare or make comments, you are not alone in this situation!