Many kids with autism exhibit Pica behavior, which means they mouth, chew on, or ingest things that aren't edible.
This can be extremelydangerous as kids often eat or mouth things that are either unsanitary, unhealthy in someway or even objects that are sharp that could potentially lead to internal injuries.
Hi, I'm Dr.
Mary Barbera, autism mom, Board Certified Behavior Analyst, online course creator, andbestselling author of The Verbal Behavior Approach.
Each week I provide you with someof my ideas about turning autism around so if you haven't subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can do that now.
Today I'm sharing a small excerpt from a recent live Q and A sessiondiscussing mouthing and eating things that are not edible.
Um, I just completed the moduletwo.
Um, I'm a little confused.
My son has a problem behavior of putting things in hismouth, but I can't understand how to use positive reinforcement to prevent it.
Should I stop him from going to the playground? Uh, how do you use positive reinforcement?And in, in this situation, this little boy is eating dirt and mulch from the playgroundand he's two and a half years old.
That is a big problem.
And there is a term we usecalled Pica, P I C A and that means ingesting, eating, chewing on, um, inedible things.
Andit is a can be a life threatening, uh, problem and it is usually classified as self injuriousbehavior, but it is a big problem because some kids swallow things like nails or glassor even mulch and dirt.
Um, and even if they inadvertently swallow things, if they areputting things in their mouths that are really dangerous, can perforate your bowels for instance, and that sort of thing.
So, uh, it's not something we have, we can treat lightly at all and it'ssomething that ethically I need to recommend and I totally would recommend that this notjust be like, Oh, I'll just figure it out as I go.
Like, if you can find a behavioranalyst locally who can help you, come in, assess the situation, uh, work with, uh, aphysician or a psychiatrist or neurologist or even your general pediatrician to comeup with a plan medically and behaviorally to treat Pica.
I will say that chewing behaviors, like just chewing your shirt and chewing on pencils and chewing on, uh, toys.
Um, thatwas a problem that Lucas had.
And it also was a problem that several of my clients have.
And I will say that medically we need to rule out, uh, vitamin, mineral deficiencies, leadlevels.
Um, I would not just treat it behaviorally because there is some research to show thatkids on the spectrum and probably kids that aren't even diagnosed, although I don't knowthat for sure, but kids on the autism spectrum, um, sometimes have a, uh, the ratio of zincto copper is not correct inside their body.
And I have read a little bit about this andI have read that zinc deficiency, for instance, um, can cause chewing problems like chewingon, on stuff.
So I would do a zinc, uh, blood test.
I would have, you know, talk to yourdoctor, Google Mary Barbera zinc.
And I did do a video blog specifically on the topicof medications and I talk about zinc to copper ratio.
So in Lucas's case, giving him zincsupplementation, which is an over the counter supplement.
But again, you want to know thatyour child needs that and what the dosage should be.
And I don't know that for, youknow, your child depending on their size.
The other thing you want to watch with thezinc to copper ratio is copper in kids with autism can be a problem.
So if the coppergets high and the zincs already low, it can cause aggression.
Um, it can cause irritability.
And I noticed that and I, again, it's in this blog whereI talk about zinc to copper ratio.
Um, Lucas, I was giving him multivitamins cause he wassuch a poor eater and he, um, started having irritability within 30 minutes of giving hima multivitamin.
And what I found out, that's when I learned about the zinc copper ratio.
And I found out that this multivitamin, uh, had copper in it.
So I stopped that and theirritability went away.
So make sure if you are giving multivitamins, uh, that there'sno copper in the multivitamin.
So that is something to consider.
So medical issuesare a problem with, especially with chewing behavior.
Um, and then the other thing wewant to assess is, okay, so, um, assessing when the chewing behavior occurs.
Like ifyou said, my son only eats stuff when he's at this playground with this mulch or whatever, then yeah, I would stop taking him to that playground at least until you can learn whatto do, how to prevent things, till you learn how to get him to attend to materials andhow to not chew on stuff within the home.
Because once you get out in the community, now you've got a bunch of other variables.
And if somehow this specific mulch or thisspecific environment is triggering this chewing and it doesn't occur anywhere else, then yes, I would stop going at least temporarily until you can get somebody to help you until youfigure out what's going on.
So assess when chewing happens, what materials a child chews, um, and then also why he chews.
So is it when he's not engaged? Um, is it, when he's hungry?What does his feeding look like? Like normal.
Like I remember I had this one client, I don'teven think he wasn't a client of mine, but somebody was asking me my opinion about aboy who was eating dangerous things had, had to have surgery for some kind of removal ofsome object that he ate that he couldn't pass.
And, and one of the first things that an expertin Pica said was, well, what is his diet normally? What does he normally eat and normally drink?And so, um, in this case, module four of the toddler course on eating and drinking shouldbe very helpful too.
So don't treat chewing behavior in a vacuum.
Treat it like it's partof the problem.
So once you assess, then you make a plan, whether that be stopgoing to that playground, whether that be um, you know, carrying something to the playgroundthat like an iPad where he would have his hands full and he'd have a nice reinforcementas you pair up not eating things.
So I wouldn't try to get him to play on the equipment unlesshe loves it.
If he loves it, then I would just try to like catch him when he comes downthe slide.
Okay, let's run, run, run, let's go back up.
I wouldn't let him loiter around and start grabbing things and I would definitely blockthat and, and prevent the, uh, the eating of anything that's not edible because it isa real safety issue.
Even if they're just eating dirt.
That's e coli.
That's dangerous, um, medically.
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