This is a post by David B. McAdam, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurodevelopmental & Behavioral Pediatrics at the University of Rochester Medical Center, an Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network site.
Pica is the frequent eating or mouthing of things that are not food and is a common eating problem in children with autism. Children with pica may eat things like paper, clothing, paint chips or plants. There are several common signs of pica that you should look for in your child. These include frequently putting small items such as small toys in his or her mouth, frequently searching for non-food items to eat or place in his or her mouth and finding non-food items in your child’s bowel movements, such as string or pebbles. Here is some advice if you believe that your child might have pica:
1. Seek professional help from a medical provider, behavior analyst or psychologist familiar with pica.
A pediatrician can help you determine whether or not your child has a nutritional deficit associated with his or her pica or is experiencing medical side effects. A behavior analyst or psychologist can help your determine if your child needs a behavioral assessment or intervention.
2. Collect some information if you believe your child might have pica
Keep a list of the non-food items your child eats or mouths. Also, track how often in a day that your child displays pica. Finally, keep a list of the situation and places in which your child displays pica.
3. What do we know about the cause of pica?
Research suggests that pica is most often related to sensory feedback or the lack of ability to identify edible items. Some children’s pica may also be related to low levels of iron or zinc
4. What do we know about the successful treatment of pica?
Research suggests that the treatment of pica is most likely to have a positive outcome when a child receives both a medical and behavioral assessments. Medical tests can look at your child’s nutritional status and for medical problems caused by pica. Behavioral assessments can help identify the specific reason why your child displays pica and can help to identify evidence-based interventions.
The Autism Speaks ATN/AIR-P Pica Tool Kits for Parents and for Professional are products of on-going activities of the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network, a funded program of Autism Speaks. It is supported in part by cooperative agreement UA3 MC 11054, Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P Network) from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (Combating Autism Act of 2006, as amended by the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011), Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Service to the Massachusetts General Hospital.