Eating adequate nutritive foods is essential for healthy growth and development. Unfortunately, an estimated 80-90% of children with autism and related developmental disorders exhibit significant feeding problems. For many children, these problems do not resolve without intervention.

ABA Feeding Therapy and Intervention

What is ABA Feeding Therapy?

Feeding therapy is a type of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) treatment that helps children with autism who are experiencing eating difficulties. It can involve a range of different approaches, from working on increasing the variety of foods your child will eat, to helping them navigate a meal at a restaurant, using utensils, or teaching them how to eat certain types of food (such as textures or purees).

ABA Feeding Therapy and Intervention

Autism and Feeding Issues

One of the most common challenges we see with autism is difficulty with eating and mealtimes. This can present in several ways including:

  • Food aversion
  • Refusal to eat
  • A very limited diet
  • Fussy eating 
  • Sensory sensitivity to certain foods

These feeding difficulties can be met with crying, aggression, and leaving the table without eating during mealtimes. This can have a large impact on family life as caregivers may have to change routines and schedules to accommodate the time it takes to get through mealtimes. Caregivers may also hesitate to bring their children to family gatherings or restaurants.

ABA Feeding Therapy and Intervention

Pediatric Feeding Disorders

Feeding problems that begin in childhood with clinically adverse effects on health and development are classified as pediatric feeding disorders (PFD). PFDs are learned biobehavioral conditions characterized by consumption of a highly limited variety of nutritive foods or drinks, and are commonly accompanied by challenging mealtime behavior disruptive to family mealtimes. Sometimes PFDs can involve oral-motor delays or deficits, or a need for medical intervention to address inadequate caloric intake, growth deficiencies, or other difficulties.

ABA Feeding Therapy and Intervention

Common Signs of PFD

Here are signs and symptoms you can use to help you identify if your child may be suffering from a pediatric feeding disorder.

  • Mealtimes that often exceed 30 minutes
  • Extreme pickiness and aversion to novel or different foods
  • Insistence on specific ways food is presented
  • Bottle dependence
  • Disruption of typical family mealtime routines
  • Rejection of one or more entire food groups such as vegetables
  • Frequent gagging, spitting or vomiting at the taste or sight of novel or different foods
  • Distress in response to novel or different foods
  • Losing weight or inability to maintain a healthy weight
ABA Feeding Therapy and Intervention

Our ABA Feeding Program Techniques

ABA is the leading scientifically supported approach to addressing feeding difficulties in children with autism and other developmental disorders. Empower Behavioral Health specializes in ABA feeding programs tailored to your child and their needs. 

Our feeding program utilizes positive reinforcement to improve feeding problems and mealtime experiences. For example, we may combine the Premack principle and token economy strategies to increase the likelihood your child will eat a non-preferred food. We might tell the child if they eat their snack, then they will get a token and the tokens can be traded in for a toy later in the week.

Another ABA therapy technique that could be used is task analysis. Our Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) can work with your child on breaking down mealtime into more manageable steps. This could include steps like sitting down at the table, tolerating the food’s presence near the table, allowing the food to be placed on a plate at their table, and ultimately eating the food item without engaging in challenging behavior.

In this parent-centered model, we leverage your expertise about your child to empower and teach you how to embed feeding strategies into home mealtime routines for long-lasting positive improvements in your child’s nutrition and mealtime experience. Our BCBAs will collaborate with you throughout the program to learn which strategies are the most effective for your child.

ABA Feeding Therapy and Intervention

Benefits of Autism Feeding Therapy

ABA feeding intervention is an effective treatment for autism and eating difficulties, and there are many benefits for both the child and family. It can help your child to overcome their aversion to new foods, expand their diet, and learn how to eat a variety of foods. ABA feeding therapy can also help your child to maintain a healthy weight, as well as reduce the risk of choking or other health problems associated with eating difficulties.

Other benefits of feeding therapy include:

  • Improving overall health by ensuring your child is getting the nutrients they need
  • Reduced stress around mealtimes for both the child and the family
  • Improved social skills and communication through interaction during mealtime