Autism and Pica: What You Need to Know

What can be done to treat pica?

In general, people with pica are highly responsive to behavioral interventions like those applied in ABA therapy. A therapist may set up sorting games to help an individual with pica distinguish between food and non-food items or reward him or her for putting food items into his or her mouth. It may also help to divert the person’s attention to something else, which may involve scheduling more structured activities into their daily routine.

However, there may be some difference in what works and what doesn’t for certain people based on what factors are causing pica in the first place. Pica that is brought on by a dietary need can likely be easily treated by changing the person’s diet or adding supplements. For pica that is caused by a developmental delay, teaching the person what they can and cannot eat should be integrated into their regular therapy sessions. And for people whose sensory desires draw them toward certain tastes or mouth sensations, foods or non-harmful chewable replacements should be sought out that mimic the characteristics of the non-food items the person tends to eat.

And, of course, in cases where the non-food items the person in question tends to eat are potentially harmful (such as household cleaners, writing utensils, or paint) or even deadly, restraint may be necessary in some situations, regardless of what long-term methods are being used. To alleviate the need for force, all non-food items, particularly dangerous ones, that a person with autism may be tempted to eat should be stored in a location where he or she cannot access them until the pica is under control. Also ensure that other people, such as teachers or caregivers, know about the condition and what they can do to keep it from becoming dangerous.


Does someone you know have pica? How do you deal with that situation? We’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comments section!

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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