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Treating Food Selectivity as Resistance to Change

Kathryn M. Peterson & Cathleen C. Piazza
Change-resistant behavior, such as rigid and selective food consumption, is a core symptom of autism that can have significant negative consequences for the child (Flygare Wallén, Ljunggren, Carlsson, Pettersson, & Wändell, 2018; Levy et al., 2019). In the current study, we used a matching-law-based intervention (Fisher et al., 2019) to treat the change-resistant feeding behavior of 7 young children with autism. The feeder gave the participant a choice between his or her change-resistant food and an alternative food during free- and asymmetrical-choice conditions. Alternative-food consumption increased for 2 participants during asymmetrical choice when the feeder provided a preferred item for consuming the alternative food and no programmed consequence for consuming the change-resistant food. Alternative food consumption increased for the other 5 participants after the feeder exposed at least one food to single choice in which the feeder guided the participant to put the bite of alternative food in his or her mouth if he or she did not do so within 8 s of presentation. Effects of the single-choice contingencies maintained during reversals and generalized to other alternative foods the feeder did not expose to single choice. These results are important because we taught participants to consume alternative foods even when their change-resistant foods were present, which is more like typical mealtime situations in which children have choices among foods.

Presented at the 2021 Michigan Autism Conference

Kathryn Peterson, Ph.D., BCBA-D, is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe-Meyer Institute. Dr. Peterson earned her Master’s degree in applied behavior analysis from Pennsylvania State University in 2008 and spent several years working as a behavior consultant specializing in the assessment and treatment of severe problem behavior in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). During that time, Dr. Peterson also served as the editorial assistant for Behavioral Interventions. Dr. Peterson then earned her doctoral degree in applied behavior analysis from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s (UNMC) Munroe-Meyer Institute under the mentorship of Drs. Valerie Volkert and Cathleen Piazza. Dr. Peterson currently serves as a research faculty member and case manager within the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at UNMC, where she conducts research on the assessment and treatment of pediatric feeding disorders. She has published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis and has secured grant awards through UNMC’s Pediatrics and Diversity funds to conduct research on effective treatments for food selectivity in children with ASD. Dr. Peterson recently served as the president of the Heartland Association for Behavior Analysis.

Cathleen C. Piazza, Ph.D. received her Ph.D. from Tulane University and completed a predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is a professor in the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology at Rutgers University and the founding director of the intensive Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Jersey. She previously founded and directed the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Programs at the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Munroe Meyer-Institute and the Marcus Institute at Emory University. She also served as the director of the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at the Kennedy Krieger Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is a licensed psychologist and a board-certified behavior analyst – doctoral. Dr. Piazza and her colleagues have examined various aspects of feeding behavior and have developed a series of interventions to address one of the most common health problems in children. Her research in this area has been among the most systematic in the field and has established empirical support for applied behavior-analytic interventions for feeding disorders. Dr. Piazza is a former Editor of the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, a past president of the Society for the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, a fellow in the Association for Behavior Analysis International, a recipient of the American Psychological Association (Division 25) Distinguished Contribution to Applied Behavior Analysis Award, and a recipient of the Association of Applied Behavior Analysis International Outstanding Mentor Award.

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