A common refrain among parents of toddlers is, “She’s such a picky eater!” But how do you know whether it is just a phase or if you need to seek feeding therapy?
What is Feeding Therapy?
Therapists who provide feeding therapy go beyond simply “teaching a child to eat.” They work closely with patients and their families to determine what is causing the child’s difficulties and tailor an individual program that will ease the whole process of eating.
What is The Best Time to Refer a Child for Feeding Therapy?
Bonding over meals and enjoying new experiences are great ways to bond with family and friends. Children can, unfortunately, experience stress and difficulties during this time. When a child exhibits any of the behaviors below, the child may benefit from receiving a feeding evaluation in order to safely eat, meet nutritional needs, or enjoy mealtime.
- Food is swallowed whole, as it is difficult to chew.
- Food consistencies that are difficult or impossible to swallow.
- Food textures are not eaten, or the transition between one texture and another is difficult (ex: from bottle feeding to puree, from puree to soft solids or mixed textures).
- Food textures, food temperatures, or flavors make them gag, avoid or very sensitive.
- Moves food around in mouth, chews and prepares to swallow food with difficulty.
- Irritable or fussy when eating.
- During feedings or after, the child appears to be congested.
- Coughs frequently while eating.
- When eating, he chokes and gags.
- Vomits frequently during or after eating or drinking.
- Eats new foods rarely or refuses to try them.
- Food is pushed away.
- Transitions poorly from gastric tube to oral feedings.
- Mealtime negative behaviors (infant cries, arches, pulls away from food; child refuses to eat, tantrums at mealtimes, or shuts down during mealtime).
- Sucking, swallowing, and breathing patterns during bottle feeding or breastfeeding are difficult.
- Infants and toddlers should not be fed for more than 30 minutes, and preschoolers should not be fed for more than 40 minutes.
- Eats a limited variety of foods or consistency. Known to be a picky eater.
In child feeding therapy, therapists work with children to provide them with the skills they need to make mealtimes more enjoyable and nutritious. Depending on the needs of each child, the skills taught may vary. Some of the most commonly taught skills are:
- Developmental delays, illness, allergies, and a variety of other factors may impair the oral skills of some children. As a result, therapists work with patients to teach them how to control and coordinate chewing, sipping, sucking, swallowing, and the like while eating and drinking. Children’s oral strength and range of motion are also improved by their therapists.
- Some children may require assistance expanding the amount and type of food they eat due to illness, allergies, sensory aversions or developmental delays. Children will be able to eat balanced, healthy meals if this is done. The child’s parents and the therapist work together to increase the amount and types of food the child is willing to consume. In some cases, especially for patients with sensory aversion or those who have not had enough exposure to a wide variety of foods, skills can be taught to reduce their sensitivity to foods and their textures.
- It is possible for a child to develop negative feelings toward eating and mealtime if he or she has been unable to eat due to illness, allergies, sensory aversion foods, and/or a lack of oral skills. Consequently, learning how to create positive eating and drinking experiences can benefit many children and their families. The goal of therapy is to improve the child’s overall mealtime routine and create positive associations with food. A therapist can also teach a patient how to self-feed by teaching them skills such as drinking from a cup, eating with a spoon or fork, or drinking from a straw. Children and their caregivers can benefit from learning how to enjoy mealtimes and retraining their caregivers on how to make it a positive affair for all.
How Can Caregivers Contribute To Feeding Therapy?
Feeding therapy relies heavily on caregivers. The therapist, as a key member of the child’s care team, maintains close contact with the child’s family in between appointments so that the treatment and strategies employed can be changed as needed. In addition to learning skills for becoming a better eater, caregivers need to learn what they can do at home in order to help children improve their eating and drinking habits. Providing therapeutic, physical, emotional, social, and mental support to improve the child’s feeding skills and habits is the task of the caregivers and therapists working together. A therapist will teach the child’s caregivers what a patient needs at home:
- A general guide to feeding and eating at home.
- Techniques for addressing negative mealtime behaviors.
- The best method of encouraging the child to consume the new foods introduced during therapy at home.
- Keep a food log of how the child acts at mealtime and how he or she reacts to food.
In collaboration with the therapist, caregivers determine which foods to introduce or target during feeding therapy for toddlers. There are many factors influencing this decision, including the child’s oral skill level (what he or she is able to chew, sip, or swallow), the family’s culture and lifestyle choices, the child’s nutrition needs, and any sensory or food texture experiences addressed in the overall therapy. A therapist might provide advice and suggestions for ways to incorporate what they learn in feeding therapy into a meal with the child and caregiver after sharing a meal with them or observing a meal between them.
What Is The Duration Of Feeding Therapy?
Therapy duration and frequency depends on the child’s needs. Together with the child and his or her caregivers, the child’s therapy team will determine the right amount of therapy so that the child can make progress without feeling overburdened. If a child does not show adequate progress in feeding therapy, he or she may qualify to participate in Hope AMC‘s feeding therapy program for children.
Contact Us TODAY!