It was the day one of my students ate his bandaid, that I realised just how much PICA affects my special needs classroom. I saw him pull it off and put it in his mouth, but by the time I had run over to him… it was gone.
There have been many moments like this, where I have ‘learnt the hard way’. Students with PICA may have a preference for certain objects, textures or tastes, and very little understanding of danger. The more you can learn about your students PICA disorder, the better you are able to manage it.
I found this page about PICA and the theory behind managing it, to be so helpful – https://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2013/06/21/pica-autism-connection-help-perspective-got-questions
I’d like to focus on simply the day-to-day tips for dealing with PICA in a SpEd Classroom:
- Inform all visitors and staff that a student/s in your classroom have PICA – it doesn’t take long for students to find the non-edible goodies the visitors have brought in, or left around the room.
- Ensure all toxic or harmful liquids, powers, or substances are out of reach and locked away – The toxic tastes that most people would be put off by, will not necessarily deter students with PICA. Many medicines are designed to look or smell appealing, so extra care must be taken. All cupboards should be locked, including craft cupboards which are full of deliciously appealing non-foods.
- PICA watch – Continue to watch for items that are easily torn, or made from materials that PICA students find appealing. So far my list includes, but is not limited to: foam balls, sponges, paper, small beads, marbles, bandaids, grass, moss, spiderwebs, dried paint on the windows, blutack, magazines, hair, baby wipes, soap, paint, uncooked rice, playdough, fruit peelings and cores, sand, bubbles, crayons, chalk and gravel.
- Laminate everything – Paper does not survive in my classroom unless laminated. Even then, laminating only extends its lifespan by a month.
- Chewy tubes / toys – A truly great invention. The nontoxic chewy toys come in different shapes and sizes. They can even be tied onto clothing, or worn as a bracelet or necklace.
- Provide edible alternatives – Get creative and find edible alternatives during art and craft (edible paint, dyes) and messy play (instead of sand, beads and pebbles try breadcrumbs, cereal, and cooked spaghetti) Many students have an overwhelming desire to explore using their mouths (eating, chewing, liking, tasting). It is less stressful for the teacher, and more enjoyable for the students when they can explore the activity using their mouths.
- Enrich the environment in other ways – give students experiences that are designed to stimulate their other senses: sensory walls, fidget toys, songs, music, Snoezelen rooms, etc.
- PICA box – redirect the student to a PICA box full of items they are allowed to eat, or chew on (popcorn, chewy tubes, raisins).
- Explicitly teach edible and non edible items – Sorting items into edible / non-edible categories can be made into a work station task.
- Use spray on plasters!! – best invention ever! Once the would has been cleaned, and stopped bleeding, apply a spray on plaster to keep out the dirt and germs.