Mealtimes are awash in rich sensory experiences, with an array of smells, temperatures, textures, sounds, tastes and interactions. Most people enjoy mealtimes and sharing these experiences with loved ones. But our ABA therapists recognize that for children on the autism spectrum, mealtimes can present significant sensory challenges, leading to stress, sensory overload and meltdowns. Difficulties with communication can pose additional challenges for everyone.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for any child to be picky at times, but kids on the autism spectrum may be highly sensitive not just to something’s flavor, but its texture, shape, smell and color. They may have a strong preference for a very small selection of foods, and might even have an overwhelming need to eat those same foods on the same plate or in the same place at each meal.
You may notice that people with autism sometimes develop their own strategies to limit their sensory input during mealtimes. They may become:
- Overly selective in their foods.
- Inflexible in their mealtime routines.
- Refuse to eat/eat limited amounts.
- Prone to escape (elope, cover their ears, eyes, nose and/or mouth).
- Repetitive in their behaviors to self-soothe.
One of the most effective strategies our Akron ABA therapists utilize in therapy is positive reinforcement.
If you think about it, most of us respond well to this. We do things all the time in our everyday lives, anticipating the benefits we’ll receive. A teenager may work odd jobs in order to buy tickets to a concert. An adult may do yard work on the weekends because he or she likes the personal satisfaction of seeing their lawn looking nice. Students finish their homework so they can have the reward of playing video games afterward.
When they receive that positive reward, it “reinforces” their behavior. It makes them more likely to put in the work next time for the payoff they’ll get.
As our ABA therapists can explain, it’s the same with children who have autism and are receiving ABA therapy, although the goal, reward and process may look different.
One of the earliest clues that a child might have autism is a speech delay. As our Akron ABA therapists can explain, children with autism tend to be less socially motivated than their typically-developing peers, which is why many parents’ instincts about how to engage their children in speech often don’t work. But with a combination of intensive, early intervention therapy and parental involvement/consistency, many children with autism can and do learn to speak, socialize and function independently in society.
Discovering the best approach for each individual child is a big part of what our Akron ABA therapists do. A new study by researchers at Standford University revealed that pivotal response treatment that involves parents works better than many other approaches to engaging a child on the autism spectrum.
ABA Therapists Explain: What is Pivotal Response Treatment?
Pivotal response treatment, or PRT, is play-based, initiated by the child and based on the core principals of Applied Behavior Analysis/ABA therapy.