What is Feeding Therapy
There are many reasons why a child might experience difficulties with eating and weight gain. Some children have medical issues that impact their comfort and ability to effectively drink liquids or eat solid foods (e.g. GI issues, reflux, Crone’s disease, past intubations). Others may have more subtle issues such as low muscle tone, oral motor weakness, or decreased awareness of where food is in their mouth.
Many of the children that we work with at South Shore Therapies are experiencing sensory sensitivities or sensory defensiveness. This can make the child react strongly to smells, tastes, and textures of foods. Behaviorally, they may automatically refuse foods based on these qualities or experience discomfort such as gagging or vomiting.
Feeding therapy is warranted when a child moves beyond being a picky eater into being a problem feeder. Red flags include:
- Reported as a ‘picky eater’ by parents across multiple well-child visits
- Very restricted variety of foods eaten, usually less than 20 foods
- Complete and consistent food refusals. Often cries or has a meltdown when new foods presented
- Child goes on food jags, eating the same food over and over for a period of time, refusing others
- Foods are dropped out of the repertoire and not re-acquired after a break
- Child refuses entire categories of foods based on color, texture, or nutrition groups (e.g. fruits/vegetables)
- At mealtimes child almost always has different foods than the rest of the family.
Early detection and intervention are important.
How our Therapists Can Help a Child to Eat
When working with children with feeding difficulties it is essential for the therapist to begin by developing a safe and trusting relationship. This is achieved through addressing the sensory and motor issues that are impacting the child’s comfort with eating.
SST’s sensory gyms provide an ideal place to develop a therapeutic relationship and help the child feel successful. Our therapists approach feeding therapy in a playful manner, building on the textures and foods the child is already comfortable with. One method frequently used is the SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) approach which breaks down the ability to eat a new food into many steps, so the child can feel successful as they increasingly interact with new foods.
Parent involvement is essential to success. Our therapists will have you fill out a detailed history of foods the child eats and those you would like them to add to their repertoire. They may have you participate in the feeding portion of the therapy session and will always provide you with feedback and suggestions for preparatory activities and foods to try at home.