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.
The term “extinction” automatically conjures up mental images of long-gone dinosaurs and dodos. But our Cleveland ABA therapists are familiar with it for another reason. It’s a procedure we frequently use to reduce interfering behaviors for children on the autism spectrum or with other conditions.
“Interfering behaviors,” as noted by researchers at the at the M.I.N.D. Institute and the National Professional Development Center on Autism Spectrum Disorders, are those that are disruptive or restrictive behaviors that can interfere with optimal development, learning and/or achievement.
“Extinction” is a formal term, but it basically means our ABA therapists want to get to the bottom of the function or cause of a certain behavior and then terminate access to that function in order to extinguish the behavior. We have to examine what is happening before and after the behavior in question to figure out how it’s being reinforced so we can understand why it’s still occurring. Then we cut off that reinforcement.
Extinction is frequently used to target or reduce interfering behaviors such as:
- Excessive scratching/picking.