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, such as GI issues, reflux, Crone’s disease, past intubations, or cerebral palsy. Others may have more subtle issues including low muscle tone, oral motor weakness, or decreased awareness of where food is in their mouth. Regardless of the root cause, feeding therapy can address eating difficulties and help a child receive the nutrition they need. South Shore Therapies is dedicated to helping children with special needs in Southern Massachusetts develop, and our feeding therapy program aims to improve the child's eating habits and nutrition.
Feeding therapy is a form of occupational therapy focused on helping a child learn how to eat or to eat a more developmentally appropriate set of foods. Interventions may include sensory, motor, and/or behavioral approaches, depending on the specific difficulties a child is having.
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:
- Reports of "picky eating" by parents across multiple well-child visits
- Very restricted variety of foods eaten, usually less than 20 foods
- Complete and consistent food refusals
- The child often cries or has a meltdown when new foods are presented
- The 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
- The child refuses entire categories of foods based on color, texture, or nutrition groups (e.g. fruits/vegetables)
- At mealtimes, the child almost always has different foods than the rest of the family
Early detection and intervention are important to prevent nutritional deficits and other social and behavioral difficulties associated with impaired sensory integration.
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 by addressing the sensory and motor issues that are impacting the child’s comfort with eating.
South Shore Therapies' 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 Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) 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.
Parental 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.
Feeding therapy can help children with sensory or motor difficulties impacting eating develop a new relationship with food. By participating, children can be set on the path for growth and development. For more information on getting started, contact South Shore Therapies today at 781-335-6663.