Sometimes children with autism have feeding problems. They may refuse to eat food, have difficulty swallowing, eat only a limited number of foods, or have sensory issues related to food color, taste, or texture. In addition, mealtime tantrums may occur frequently. When this happens, feeding therapy may be necessary to improve quality food intake and keep your child healthy.
Some feeding therapy programs will often use negative reinforcement to decrease feeding problems. For example, a therapist will present to the child a non-preferred food item and repeat the demand “eat” or “take a bite” until the child complies. In this case, the child is only allowed to escape the feeding therapy session once they have consumed the bite of food. The child’s attempts to escape are often blocked and cries ignored.
However, we prefer to use more positive techniques in order to prevent mealtimes from becoming aversive to the child. We believe there are more painless ways to work on feeding issues and keeping feeding enjoyable-as it should be!
We often use techniques such as positive reinforcement, shaping, desensitization and food chaining to increase healthy eating. Instead of making a child eat a non-preferred bite of food, we break it down into small steps and reinforce gradual progress. For example, the child may first touch a small bite of food before the therapist reinforces this behavior. Then the therapist may require the child to put the food to their lips, and even lick the food before requiring the child to put the food in their mouth. Overall, it moves at a pace comfortable to the child and often takes the tears out of eating.