Simple Ways To Improve Eating Habits When Your Child has ASD
Does your child only eat very specific foods?
Are you concerned your child isn’t getting the right nutrition?
Does your child gobble down his/her meal?
A simple solution is available, and the only equipment you need is your smartphone or a tablet. The solution is video self-modeling (VSM), and it is proven to work with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The examples included in this article have successfully helped children just like your son or daughter to bypass eating challenges—usually very quickly!
This article is the second in a series that focuses on ways to use VSM to help your child with challenges common to children with ASD. It provides examples of how to create VSM videos to help your child with eating problems. The examples are purposefully general. You can tailor them to meet your child’s circumstances.
What is video self-modeling?
VSM uses carefully created, short videos of your child that show your child’s brain exactly what to do in specific situations. The videos are edited or thoughtfully created so that only positive and successful behaviors are shown. All errors and unhelpful behaviors are removed from the final video, so your child only sees success.
In the case of learning helpful eating behaviors, your child will watch his/her self on video either eating a variety of foods or using appropriate table manners. Below are some general examples of how to create a VSM video to improve eating behaviors, but you can adjust these steps to match your child’s specific needs.
How do I use video self-modeling to teach better eating habits to my child?
Below are two examples of how to use VSM to help your child improve eating habits based on the questions at the beginning of this article.
Increase the variety of foods eaten
If your child eats a very limited number of foods, this can limit his/her ability to socialize and impact nutritional health. You can address this problem by making a short, positive video using your smartphone or tablet.
- Tell your child he/she is going to star in a movie you’re going to make.
- Let your child know the movie will help him/her eat more foods, which will make the body healthier and will help him/her make friends (think of all the social interactions that happen in a school cafeteria around trading foods—going to birthday parties is easier, too, when your child can eat the foods provided).
- Using your smartphone or tablet, record your child chewing one of the foods he/she loves. Shoot this from a few different angles.
- Record images of a variety of new foods on a plate.
- Now ask your child to take one of the new foods and put it up to his/her mouth. The child does NOT have to put it into his/her mouth. If you can, show the child smiling or looking content as he/she is bringing the new food from the plate to the open mouth. Repeat this with several new foods.
- Edit the video to show your child smiling, bringing a new food to his/her mouth, and chewing happily (remember, the chewing segment is actually a clip of him/her eating a favorite food, not a new food). Show this sequence with several new foods. Insert shots of the plate of new foods between each sequence. The editing can be completed using free editing software such as iMovie or KineMaster.
- Insert an image of your child looking happy at the beginning and end of your VSM video.
- At the start of the video, say something like, “This is Colin eating new foods.”
- At the end of the video, say something positive like, “Great job trying new foods, Colin!”
- During editing, remove any errors or images of your child frowning at the new foods. The final video should only show your child happily bringing new foods to his/her mouth, chewing, and swallowing.
- The final video should be between 30 and 60 seconds long. Show the video to your child every 1-2 days and praise him/her every time a new food is tried.
- Once your child is consistently trying new foods, you can show the video 1-2 times per week for two weeks or just stop showing it altogether. There are no hard and fast rules about when to stop showing the video, although your child may tire of watching the same video too often. If they tire watching the same video but still need the instruction, create a new video for the same behavior.
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Slow down your child’s eating
If your child gobbles down his/her meals very quickly, this can pose a choking hazard and can also affect social opportunities. Meals are a time to socialize with friends. Gobbling down food limits the length of the meal and the ability to talk in addition to creating an unsightly mess.
If this is a challenge for your child, below is how to make a video to help him/her quickly overcome it:
1. Tell your child you’re going to make a short movie of him/her and he/she will be the star.
2. Let him/her know the video will help slow down eating, which will help him/her be healthier and open up opportunities to make friends.
3. Instruct your child to take one bite of his/her food and place it down on the plate in front of him/her. Make sure the child takes a reasonably-sized bite and chews thoroughly before swallowing. It may take a few tries to get this right, depending on your child’s usual eating habits. Video-record him/her doing this (but don’t record your instructions) with your smartphone or tablet.
4. Tell your child to take a sip of his/her drink and place it down in front of him/her. Video-record this, but do not record your instruction.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 a few times.
6. Edit the video to show your child taking a bite of food, placing it down, chewing, swallowing, and then taking a sip of a drink. Show this sequence several times on the final video. The final pace shown on the video should be the pace at which you want your child to now eat. The editing can be completed using free editing software such as iMovie or KineMaster.
7. Start and end the video with an image of your child smiling or looking happy.
8. At the beginning of the video, say something like, “This is Patrick eating slowly and carefully.”
9. End the video by saying something like, “Fantastic job eating slowly and carefully, Patrick!”
10. Show the final video to your child every 1-2 days and compliment him/her when the child eats slowly and carefully (“Great job eating slowly and carefully, Patrick”).
11. Once your child is consistently eating slowly and carefully, you can show the video 1-2 times per week for two weeks, then once per week, and then stop showing it altogether. If your child starts to gobble food again in the future, you can start showing the video every 1-2 days again for a few weeks.
Remember, you should adapt these instructions to adjust to your child’s specific challenges. You can also tell your child’s school system that you want them to use video self-modeling to teach your child in school. Every professional working with your child can use video self-modeling to help your child reach his/her goals.
VSM is a very effective tool that positively shows your child’s brain exactly what to do. In the next article in this series, we will focus on using VSM to teach your child to use self-help skills at home, like brushing his/her teeth and getting dressed. Until then, happy recording!
Melissa M. Root, PhD, is president and founder of Root Success SolutionsTM LLC and a certified school psychologist in Connecticut. Dr. Root is a coauthor of Picture Perfect: Video Self-Modeling for Behavior Change, available from Pacific Northwest Publishing and through her website. Dr. Root offers a professional certificate in Video Self-Modeling and trains families and professionals on how to use the technique. She presents internationally on Video Self-Modeling as an effective tool for positive behavior change.
This is article was featured in Issue 74 – Every Voice Matters