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ATN/AIR-P Guides to Pica for Parents and Professionals

Pica, the repeated eating of non-food items, is the eating disorder most often displayed by children with autism. In published literature, the most common definition of pica is the placing of non-edible items past the plane of the lips. For example, a child may eat food from a garbage can or bite off a piece of a toy plastic car and swallow it quickly. Other children hold things in their mouths and move them around only swallowing the item occasionally. 

Children with pica require careful health monitoring in order to a) identify medical factors that may be contributing to pica behavior and b) identify and treat health risks of pica. The Pica Tool Kits for Parents and Professionals were created by the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, in collaboration with experts in these areas from the Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavior Pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, to help parents and primary care providers understand more about pica, the signs and symptoms, as well as the ways to treat and prevent it. 

Pica: A Guide for Parents

This guide for parents provides useful information for those seeking help in understanding and managing the pica their child exhibits. It is divided into the following sections:

  • What is pica?
  • Why is pica a problem?
  • Why do children with autism and other developmental disabilities have pica?
  • Where can I go for help?
  • Things parents can do
  • Treatments that require professional help

Click here to download Pica: A Guide for Parents.

PIca: A Guide for Professionals

This guide for professionals provides guidance for primary care medical providers unfamiliar with the medical and behavioral treatment of the pica of children with autism. It is divided into the following sections:

  • What is pica?
  • Important questions to ask parents or educators of children with autism to screen for pica
  • Monitoring for health risks of pica
  • Assessment of acute illness in a child with pica
  • Behavioral interventions for primary care physicians

Click here to download Pica: A Guide for Professionals.

Click here to see a blog written by David McAdam, Ph.D., on the importance of these new tools.

"These materials are the product of on-going activities of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, a funded program of Autism Speaks. It is supported by cooperative agreement UA3 MC 11054 through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Research Program to the Massachusetts General Hospital. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the MCHB, HRSA, HHS, or Autism Speaks."