Friday, November 4, 2016

Transforming Timid Eaters: Encouraging Healthy Habits

I'm thrilled to announce that we were awarded the Beaverton Education Foundation's Classroom Innovation Grant!

More about the grant:
Often students on the autism spectrum have an extremely limited diet. At school we are able to slowly introduce and increase exposure to new and healthier food options. If students can begin the process of healthier eating in elementary school, we can help set them up to live a more balanced lifestyle.

Research indicates that children impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) tend to be "picky" eaters. This is due to a variety of reasons, but it is thought to be in large part due to sensitivity to a variety of sensory stimuli--which is a defining characteristic of ASD. This project gives us funding to supply the foods and materials needed to help children work through sensory sensitivity and defensiveness to increase their exposure to foods, reduce anxiety about known and novel foods, and hopefully to encourage children to accept and eat new foods. With this project, not only can we reduce the fear and trepidation about mealtimes by explicitly teaching about food and its textures, but also to encourage more typical social behaviors about food as well as encourage a well rounded and healthy diet. We have worked on these skills in the past and parents have expressed their amazement at the progress their children make. 

We will increase children's tolerance to food by explicitly teaching a proximity to food model. The model moves from the least intrusive exposure to food (being in the same area as the food) along a scale to where students will chew the food (same area, touch with hand, smell, hold, kiss, lick, bite then chew). Each new skill is explicitly pre-taught in an area without the new food. Students are taught about the skill and the food in an area that is neutral and calm, so that when introduced during mealtime, the new skills are more practiced. We will then guide students through each level of exposure to help them grow with each new food. 

Throughout the year, we will chart each new food we try with each student, and include what level they reach on the proximity scale. This will give us an accurate representation of how many foods they gain, as well as how much their proximity increases.

We ate carrots!
We have started! Today was the first day of our "food of the week" program. Today our target food was carrots. We described carrots..."crunchy", "cold", "orange" and then got to look at carrots and where they come from. We picked up and felt carrots fresh from the garden with stems. We got to discover that carrots came in a variety of colors.

Then came the big moment! Touching, smelling and kissing a carrot! ALMOST EVERYONE was successful in kissing the carrot this first day! Many students took it a step further, using their proximity visuals to lick or bite the carrot! Wow! I am so proud of our little friends! They were so motivated to see that they were earning stickers for their bravery, and everyone loved the round of applause they received when they tried the new food! Hopefully this will help you introduce carrots at home! Happy weekend!

Feeling the carrots and getting ready for a kiss

Exploring new textures

Biting the carrot was scary, but we did it!

Kissing the carrot, using the visual to see the goal

Yum!

We love earning for our bravery!