Pica in autism

Pica syndrome in Autism – Part 1

What is Pica?

Does your child have an insatiable need to chew on and/or eat inedible objects? This is not uncommon among children with autism and I have quite a bit of first hand experience with this with my son.

It is still an on-going challenge for us, but I have learned a number of things over the years that have helped to reduce the chewing/mouthing and to make it more manageable, so I’d like to share those with all of you.

I am going to do this in a series of posts instead of all in one so as not to overwhelm with too much information at once!

Possible cause of Pica – Nutritional Deficiencies

So, first up, I want to talk about one possible underlying cause of chewing behaviors: nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in certain nutrients, most commonly zinc and/or iron, can lead to chewing/mouthing of non-food objects.

I suggest starting by talking to your child’s doctor about ordering blood work to determine if this could be a factor in your child’s chewing habits.

According to the Autism Speaks Provider’s Guide to Managing PICA in Children with Autism, basic blood work to check for underlying causes of chewing/mouthing/eating inedible objects should include the following:

  • Hemoglobin/hematocrit
  • Iron studies (ferritin, TIBC, serum iron)
  • Serum zinc levels
  • Test for parasites if there is reason for concern (i.e. worms or larvae in the stool or other clinical symptoms)

(**This is a general guideline and not necessarily all inclusive. Your child’s doctor may want to consider other testing.)

How to address nutritional deficiencies in Pica?

If nutritional deficiencies are identified, they can usually be easily treated through supplementation, but it may also be helpful to consider working with a dietician, particularly if your child eats an especially selective diet.

An occupational or speech therapist with training in feeding issues can also offer support with helping your child to expand their diet, as restrictive eating often has to do with underlying sensory processing issues.

Once nutritional deficiencies are either ruled out or addressed, if your child is still engaging in chewing or eating non-edible objects it’s time to consider other potential causes and interventions‚Ķmore to come on that in Part 2!

If you have questions on this or other parenting questions related to autism you can directly connect and have a conversation with Jennifer Rainey on Autism’Tude.

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