Assessment, behavioral treatment, and prevention of pica: clinical guidelines and recommendations for practitioners

Res Dev Disabil. 2012 Nov-Dec;33(6):2050-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2012.04.001. Epub 2012 Jun 28.


Pica is a dangerous form of self-injurious behavior that occurs in people with developmental disabilities who are institutionalized. Studies also indicate that pica has led to the death of people with developmental disabilities. While a number of published studies have demonstrated that pica behavior can be decreased substantially with behavioral treatment, few of these studies incorporated strategies for generalization and maintenance outside of brief sessions. A second limitation of current research is that some studies reduced pica substantially, but pica responses still occurred at rates that are problematic in terms of prevention of adverse consequences, which leaves practitioners with the task of further decreasing pica to protect people exhibiting pica from harm. We make recommendations for assessment, treatment, and prevention of pica for practitioners. These recommendations are based on two extensive reviews of the literature and our extensive experience as practitioners in the treatment of pica. Our hope is that administrators, professionals and practitioners will consider our guidelines and recommendations as they attempt to protect people with pica and developmental disabilities from harm by developing standards for assessment, treatment and prevention for this difficult-to-treat population. Our hope is that children with pica will receive early intervention to prevent pica from developing into life-threatening behavior.

Publication types

  • Practice Guideline
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Developmental Disabilities / complications*
  • Developmental Disabilities / psychology
  • Developmental Disabilities / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening
  • Pica / diagnosis
  • Pica / prevention & control*
  • Pica / psychology
  • Social Environment
  • Treatment Outcome