Food Allergies

Featured Video Play Icon

Food Allergies

“Can I Eat This?”

Kirby is 6 years old. When I first met him, three years ago, he had significant problem behaviors.  His ability to communicate his wants and needs were greatly impaired, and any demand or denial of a preferred item could lead to extreme behaviors such as aggression and/or property disruption.  His behaviors were so dramatic that, at the time, we needed two adults to hold him and keep him and others around him safe. Over the last three years, Kirby has made incredible progress.  His language skills have flourished and his ability to handle frustration and accept demands have improved dramatically.  The outbursts we saw in the past have become rare and he is able to learn and fully participate in a classroom with six other children.

All of the hard work Kirby did to learn the skills to control his problem behaviors were essential prerequisites to a safe eating program.  When he was learning to ask for what he wanted instead of hitting he was also learning some of the basic pieces of self-control.

The Safe Eating Program was designed specifically for Kirby’s individual needs and was supervised by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Because of the dangerous nature of his allergies and his constant desire to grab food from other children, we needed something tailor-made for him and his specific difficulties.  To work with these specific issues we developed a program with the goal of having him STOP before grabbing food and asking “can I eat this?” He then acknowledges the answer by eating the food if the answer is “yes” or staying calm and not grabbing the food if the answer is “no.”

In order to teach this skill we started with the answer being “yes” most of the time to keep him motivated to stop and ask.  Kirby quickly learned that if he stopped and asked “can I eat this?” he got access to lots of candy and other great food items he might not normally have. His high level of motivation let him quickly learn this new skill.

Once he learned to stop and ask “can I eat this?” we needed to have him practice hearing “no.”  This was hard for Kirby at first, but he soon learned that “no” was OK.  These days he will sometimes give a reason why he thinks we have said “no,” so it appears he has taken the next step in his development of understanding that there is a reason why things are not good for him to eat. Since starting the program, the instances of grabbing food have dramatically reduced, and his ability to stop and ask before grabbing items has increased.

This skill was first taught in the one on one setting with his ABA therapist. It was then generalized to his classroom and then finally to his home and community. Kirby continues to practice this skill in the one on one setting periodically to help maintain the behavior. Also, Kirby has now become aware that some items are safe. For example, he knows the food sent from home for snack and lunch is safe. However, when new items are introduced to the classroom… he asks (or is prompted to ask) “Can I eat this?”

As Kirby gets older he will be able to ask more specific questions to gain the knowledge he needs. We will teach him to ask questions such as “does this have eggs in it?” and seek out other information he needs to learn to keep himself safe.

Kirby is one of the 45 amazing children we are privileged to work with at The Shafer Center. The Shafer Center is an early intervention program for children diagnosed with autism. We work with children aged two to ten and provide classroom services, speech and language services, occupational therapy services, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) programs and provide school aides to children who attend a typical school program.


Christine Accardo, Ph.D., BCBA-D

Program Director, The Shafer Center

  • Kathy Aurigemma
    Posted at 23:40h, 01 June Reply

    What an interesting article, Chris. The Shafer Center is lucky to have you! Sounds like you’re doing very well. How is Max?

    • Christine Accardo
      Posted at 12:27h, 14 July Reply

      Great to hear from you! Hope all is well.

  • Mary Beth Marsden
    Posted at 15:45h, 03 June Reply

    Do any of your children have food allergies? Are you finding solutions?
    Let us know about it!

  • Joanna Bell
    Posted at 16:34h, 03 July Reply

    I found myself wondering what would happen if Kirby said to an adult, “Can I eat this?” and the adult wasn’t in the know. Like, a differnet mom hosting a birthday party. And she thinks Kirby’s just being polite and asking permission to eat. So of course she says, “Sure, go ahead!” And then he eats something potentially unsafe. I have no doubt he’s never unsupervised enough for this to happen, but, but as he gets older, I’m wondering, is there a piece for him to know to only ask a certain short list of people, or, would that complicate the lesson of simply, for now, just getting him to stop, and ask, at all?

    • Christine Accardo
      Posted at 12:26h, 14 July Reply

      You are right about that! “can I eat this?” is just one step of the process. As we move forward we have been teaching him to ask more specifics, such as “does this have eggs or milk?” and we make sure he knows who his safe adults are. It is all part of the process.

Post A Comment