The name of the condition originates from the Latin word for magpie, a bird that is reputed to eat almost anything. Pica is seen in all ages, particularly in pregnant women, small children, and those with developmental disabilities.
Pica is more common in women and children. Pica in children (usually only in young children, or children with autism, or another mental or developmental disorder) may be dangerous. Children eating painted plaster containing lead may suffer brain damage from lead poisoning. There is a similar risk from eating dirt near roads that existed prior to the phaseout of tetra-ethyl lead in petrol (in some countries), or prior to the cessation of the use of contaminated oil (either used, or containing toxic PCBs, or dioxin) to settle dust. In addition to poisoning, there is also a much greater risk of gastro-intestinal obstruction, or tearing in the stomach. Another risk of dirt-eating is the possible ingestion of animal feces and accompanying parasites. Pica can also be found in animals and is most commonly found in dogs.
- Presentation of attention, food or toys, not contingent on pica being attempted
- Differential reinforcement, with positive reinforcement if pica is not attempted and consequences if pica is attempted
- Discrimination training between edible and inedible items, with negative consequences if pica is attempted
- Visual screening, with eyes covered for a short time after pica is attempted
- Aversive presentation, contingent on pica being attempted :
- oral taste (e.g. lemon)
- smell sensation (e.g. ammonia)
- physical sensation (e.g. water mist in face)
- Physical restraint :
- self-protection devices that prohibit placement of objects in the mouth
- brief restraint contingent on pica being attempted
- Time-out contingent on pica being attempted
- Overcorrection, with attempted pica resulting in required washing of self, disposal of nonedible objects and chore-based punishment
- Negative practice (non-edible object held against patient's mouth without allowing ingestion)