What is it about?

Feeding problems are relatively common in young children with ASD. This study made use of differential reinforcement and shaping to increase the variety of food items accepted by two boys with autism. The results showed that the two participants started accepting food, expanded the number of food items consumed and that parents learned to introduce new foods into their children’s diets.

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Why is it important?

Feeding problems are relatively common in young children, although the ones with ASD appear to be at high risk for the problem (Fodstad, McCourt, Minor, & Minshawi, 2016). Feeding difficulties are a matter to be considered when they contribute to family stress and interfere with the family’s daily routine (Nadon, Feldman, Dunn, & Gisel, 2011). The literature points out that among the most common feeding problems found in autistic children are refusal to try new foods and food selectivity (Marshal et al., 2015). According to Kachani, Abreu, Lisboa, and Fisberg (2005), food selectivity in childhood is a problem characterized by rejecting many foods, and often a diet restricted to foods high in carbohydrates, sugar and ultra-processed food. Developing procedures that can be inserted into the family routine is advantageous because it teaches the family to cope with two concomitant challenges: (1) increase the child’s caloric intake with quality products and (2) deal with the problems the child presents when he/she refuses the food (Clawson et al., 2007; Johnson et al., 2015; Vazquez et al., 2018). Children with greater food flexibility can increase family social opportunities as feeding in other homes (e.g., friends, relatives), as well as at restaurants or parties becomes an event of less concern. The results helped to support the effectiveness of a differential reinforcement and shaping procedure to treat food inflexibility without using procedures such as EE, which, in addition to being more invasive, requires following a technique and taking much more care when carrying out the procedure (Kodak & Piazza, 2008).


Co-authoring this paper was a great opportunity to join a team of experienced behavior analysts and to learn more about feeding problems in children with autism. I hope the results of this study would help parents and professionals to deal more effectively with this problem and to help the kids to have a more health and significant life.

Ana Arantes
Universidade Federal de Sao Carlos

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The use of shaping by relatives of autistic children to increase food intake, European Journal of Behavior Analysis, August 2019, Taylor & Francis,
DOI: 10.1080/15021149.2019.1660953.
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