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Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA
Expert Name: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA
Expert Title: MA, BCBA, COBA
Company Name:  Special Learning, Inc.
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Short Bio: Amanda Fishley, MA, BCBA, COBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Certified Ohio Behavior Analyst. She has experience working with children, adolescents and adults in variety of settings including school, home and mental health facilities. In each of these environments, she worked closely with parents, teachers, and paraprofessionals to develop and oversee implementation of behavior intervention plans. She has extensive experience mentoring and providing supervision to RBTs, BCBA candidates and behavior analysts. As an Associate Director of Clinical Solutions for Special Learning, she is responsible for creating and presenting educational materials and promoting Special Learning’s mission to positively impact the special needs community. She received her Master’s degree in Special Education/ABA from The Ohio State University. She has been working with in the field of ABA for over ten years.

Should He be Eating That?

What is Pica?
Pica is the ingestion of nonedible substances, such as sand, cigarettes, wood, dirt, cotton, etc. As one can imagine, this can be a significant problem and is relatively common among individuals with developmental disabilities. Potential risks associated with pica include, but not limited to, intestinal blockage, poisoning, parasites, surgery to remove objects, and even death. 
So, what do we do?
First, consult with a physician about the problem and a behavior analyst if possible. There are options and research has demonstrated effective interventions that decrease and even eliminate this behavior long term. 
In the most recent literature review conducted by Hagopian, Rooker, and Rolider (2011), they concluded that behavorial intervention is a well-established treatment for pica.  Utilizing reinforcement and response reduction procedures exceeded their criteria as well-established treatment. 
Contemporary behavior treatment aims to:
  • Bring eating under more appropriate stimulus control
  • Provide alternative and competing sources of stimulation (access to food)
  • Establishing alternative responses one the individuals contact non-edible items
Again, with the potential severity of the problem, it’s important to contact your physician for the health and safety of the child/adult. I also encourage you to not give up hope on finding an effective intervention. A behavior analyst can help you to discover why your child is engaging in this behavior and write a plan accordingly.  
What you can do immediately:
Modify the environment. Remove/hide the items that the individual tends to consume. Inform all significant others, teachers, therapists, and family members of the problem so they can also modify the environment and monitor the behavior.  Offer choices of preferred edible items and allow those to be available as much as possible or you see fit. 
Hagopian, L. P., Rooker, G. W., & Rolider, N. U. (2011). Identifying empirically supported treatments for pica in individuals with intellectual disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32, 2114-2120.