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New UTSA feeding clinic to make mealtime more enjoyable for San Antonio families

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A new feeding research clinic is being piloted at UTSA to assist families with children who are living with feeding disorders, a challenge commonly associated with autism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 59 children has been identified with autism and it is estimated that up to 90 percent of these children have a pediatric feeding disorder.

The families are not just dealing with picky eaters. Children with autism who have feeding disorders exhibit excessive problematic mealtime behavior (such as spitting, tossing food and throwing tantrums) and consume a highly limited variety of foods which, in some cases, may lead to a failure to consume adequate nutrients and calories to support normal growth.

These persistent problems with behavior adversely affect family functioning through disruption of mealtimes and family routines and rituals. These children tend to refuse to eat foods with specific textures and colors, avoid liquids and some food groups entirely (fruits, vegetables and proteins) and have a strong preference for foods high in carbohydrates and sugars. Some may even exhibit trouble chewing and swallowing or medical complications that contribute to the problem.

Bryant Silbaugh, an assistant professor in the UTSA College of Education and Human Development (COEHD), and UTSA students in the Silbaugh Behavior Research Group (SBRG) are offering a free research feeding clinic at the Downtown Campus this summer to provide families with solutions to this daily challenge and to offer the UTSA students an experiential learning project which will enhance their education.

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is the applied branch of a natural science of behavior with almost a century of rigorous science showing that behavior is controlled by the environment and that the best way to change behavior is through environmental change.

Silbaugh and his research assistants are looking at how behavioral interventions based on ABA, the leading evidence-based approach to treating and educating individuals with autism, can help children with feeding disorders by modifying the environment to decrease problem behavior and increase the variety of nutritive foods they consume.

There are dozens of behavioral interventions out there, but more research like the kind being conducted in Silbaugh’s lab is needed to understand what works best.

“We hope to validate a practical feeding treatment model that, with some specialized training, the everyday ABA practitioner can replicate in local ABA service delivery settings to address the huge demand for evidence-based feeding interventions in San Antonio,” explained Silbaugh.

The research team will conduct behavioral assessments with the children and will study how environmental events such as consequences for eating determine the foods they readily eat and those they reject.

During the weekly UTSA clinic, which is slated to be held on Wednesdays this summer, research assistants will provide each child with a highly individualized feeding intervention based on best practices in the scientific literature, such as those described by Silbaugh and colleagues in their comprehensive synthesis of the literature published in the Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in 2016.

“We want to make sure the child’s feeding behaviors improve in the clinic, but especially at home where the child eats every day,” replied Silbaugh. “We hope our research will help the child make consistent improvements in their feeding skills and we will show parents how to use effective feeding strategies to make mealtime more enjoyable for the entire family.”

Emily Corley is studying feeding disorders as part of her UTSA master’s degree program and will be working alongside Silbaugh during this clinic.

“I have the opportunity to take what I learn and apply it in a clinical setting. It is the most rewarding thing to see when all of the hard work makes a difference in a child’s life,” said Corley, who is a graduate research assistant and lab manager.

Corley is assisting with the operations of each session by completing intake with each parent, preparing foods, collecting data and assisting with implementing the behavioral intervention. Silbaugh and Corley just returned from a national conference in Chicago where they presented some of their research on pediatric feeding disorders.

Silbaugh said he and his research group aim to advance this type of “service research” or research that’s conducted to make an impact in the lives of children with autism in the community.

The group also hopes to disseminate evidence based practices in ABA to special education teachers, clinical service providers and to educate the community about the resources UTSA provides for children with autism.

Silbaugh said that SBRG has provided more than 150 free ABA service hours, a value of roughly $18,000 in service hours if parents paid out of pocket privately, through Project FEED since December of 2017. 

View the original on UTSA Today: https://www.utsa.edu/today/2019/06/story/UTSAFeedC...
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