2019: Sarah Weinsztok

University of Florida

Sarah Weinsztok is a fourth-year doctoral student at the University of Florida. Her dissertation research focuses on assessing and intervening in unhealthy eating habits of young learners with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in early-intervention contexts. Her study involves identifying healthier alternatives to preferred snack foods commonly used as edible reinforcers for individuals with ASD.


The first goal is to identify effective alternatives to unhealthy preferred foods in young learners with ASD by assessing their substitutability. Sarah plans first to conduct a preference assessment of snack foods common in each participant’s diet. Next, she will identify healthier candidate substitutes using two criteria: (1) formal similarity to the preferred snack food along several dimensions (e.g., flavor, texture, etc.) and (2) greater nutritional composition. Candidate substitutes will be assessed in a separate preference assessment. Finally, all snack items will be compared against all healthier candidate substitutes.


Following the preference assessments, to determine substitutability Sarah will conduct concurrent-schedule reinforcer assessments with the highly preferred snack foods and healthier alternatives. Both the formally similar and the most highly preferred healthier alternative (if different) will be assessed in this arrangement, as well as a non-indicated healthier alternative (i.e., not formally similar and less preferred). Thus, Sarah will determine whether formal similarity or preference rank better predicts substitutability for the less-healthy preferred item.


Once effective substitutes are identified, Sarah plans to compare the relative utility of the high-preference snack foods and the healthier substitutes in supporting instructional gains. If the proposed aims are achieved, Sarah hopes to have developed a brief, yet validated, assessment procedure that can be used in a clinical context to enhance nutritional status in children with ASD receiving edible reinforcers while maintaining academic progress.


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