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Antecedent and reinforcement-based approaches to decreasing feeding selectivity in children with autism

Author: Sarah Larner

Presented for MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis, September 2016, Bangor University

Food selectivity affects a high proportion of children with autism, and a range of behavioural interventions have shown success in its treatment. Escape extinction, such that escape from food is prevented, is a common component, nevertheless there are negative side-effects to this. Antecedent and reinforcement-based interventions may therefore be preferable, and
following conflicting results with previous comparisons, this study initially set out to conclude whether simultaneous or sequential reinforcement is superior in increasing eating of non-preferred foods. An alternating treatments design was used for comparison with 3 children with autism, and found simultaneous reinforcement with compatible foods to be advantageous for 1 participant, however neither technique effective for 2 participants. For the successful participant, systematic fading procedures were applied using a changing criterion design to reduce the ratio of preferred to non-preferred food, and whilst experiencing time constraints, some success was made with this. For the other 2 participants, a graduated exposure hierarchy procedure was implemented in a changing criterion design. This hierarchy was found to increase participants’ interactions with the non-preferred foods, nevertheless there was insufficient time to complete the hierarchy. Limitations to the study and reasons for the inconsistent results are discussed, along with suggestions for future research.

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