A feeding disorder can occur alongside developmental delays or medical conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or respiratory disorders.
Young children with feeding difficulties typically demonstrate a delay in or difficulty swallowing, sucking, chewing, and display food aversions, food refusal, texture selectivity, and food selectivity. Many factors can cause a young child to become a picky eater.
Feeding therapy involves improving the child’s oral motor and underlying feeding skills and their eating habits. We assess the child’s sucking, swallowing, chewing patterns, diet, behavior, and the home environment during mealtime. Once we pinpoint the underlying problem(s), we create a family treatment plan. Some children require additional one-on-one feeding therapy, and we demonstrate to the parent how to tackle their child’s feeding or eating delay.
Several factors can cause a child’s feeding and swallowing disorder. Infants who were hospitalized at birth and received tracheotomy for an extended time will often have difficulties adopting proper feeding patterns. In some cases, even children with no known conditions or relevant medical histories can develop a fear of food.
Other possible factors that could lead to feeding and swallowing disorders include:
Feeding and swallowing disorders in children are often difficult to spot at first. Most of the time, children who struggle during mealtimes are simply assumed to be picky eaters. And while this is true for many, there are other signs and symptoms that family members can consider distinguishing between a child who is a picky eater or one with a feeding problem. These include:
Meanwhile, a child who is a picky eater may sometimes exhibit similar behaviors as someone with a feeding disorder. However, there are key differences to monitor. Typical signs of a picky eater are:
Treatment for feeding or swallowing disorders starts with getting a comprehensive check on the child’s general health. A pediatrician can assess the child’s growth and weight based on what is appropriate for his or her age. Children must also be checked for any condition that interferes with feeding skills.
If your child’s doctor determines that there is cause for concern, a speech-language pathologist (SLP) may be consulted to conduct a feeding evaluation and provide a diagnosis.
During the feeding evaluation, the speech-language pathologist will:
Once a diagnosis is made, the SLP or therapist may work closely with a team to design a feeding therapy plan to address the child’s needs. This team may include a physical or occupational therapist, a dietitian or nutritionist, a physician or nurse, or a developmental specialist.
As part of the multidisciplinary team, the SLP can help your child address the following issues:
The Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach to feeding therapy addresses not only the child’s needs and eating difficulties but also its underlying causes. It is based on the feeding steps, stages, and skills found in typically developing children. The SOS approach relies on several factors, including motor, oral, behavioral/learning, medical, sensory, and nutrition, in determining the root cause of a child’s feeding problems and managing it successfully.
In conducting SOS feeding therapy, it is important to create an environment wherein a child can interact and get familiarized with food in a non-stressful way. Feeding therapy may be done individually, as a group, or at home, with the primary goal of helping the child develop and master the necessary skills to become a healthy and safe eater.
Feeding therapy meals are done to help children work on feeding skills and expose them to new foods. It typically starts with foods the child is already familiar with and able to tolerate before moving on to new ones. The therapist encourages the child to smell the food, learn about its texture, and explore its taste. Modeling and reinforcement are crucial during feeding therapy in order to help the child develop a positive relationship with food.
The SOS approach can also be applied during family meals, wherein the goal is to improve the volume or amount of the child’s food intake. Pediatric feeding therapists use several strategies that may include:
At Queens Letters, our pediatric feeding therapy involves improving the underlying feeding skills and eating habits of babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. We assess the child’s sucking, swallowing, chewing patterns, diet, behavior, and the home environment during mealtime. Once we pinpoint the underlying problem(s), we create a family treatment plan. Some children require additional one-on-one feeding therapy. Our pediatric feeding therapists work closely with parents on how to tackle their child’s feeding or eating delay.
Read about Early Childhood Developmental Milestones.