The goal of feeding therapy is to help children develop normal, effective feeding patterns and behaviors. Feeding therapy is more than just “teaching a child to eat.” Therapists work closely with children and their families to determine the source of the child’s difficulties and develop very specific therapies to make the entire process of eating easier and more enjoyable.
When should a child be referred for feeding therapy?
If any of the behaviors below are affecting a child’s ability to safely eat, meet nutritional needs or enjoy the mealtime experience, the child may benefit from receiving a feeding evaluation.
Difficulty chewing foods, typically swallowing food in whole pieces.
Difficulty swallowing foods or refuses to swallow certain types of food consistencies.
Refuses to eat certain food textures or has difficulty transitioning from one texture to another texture (ex: from bottle feedings to purees, from purees to soft solids or mixed textured foods).
Gags on, avoids or is very sensitive to certain food textures, food temperatures and/or flavors.
Struggles to control and coordinate moving food around in mouth, chewing and preparing to swallow food.
Fussy or irritable with feeding.
The child seems congestion during feedings or after.
Frequently coughs when eating.
Gags and chokes when eating.
Frequently vomits during or immediately after eating or drinking.
Refuses or rarely tries new foods.
Pushes food away.
Has difficulty transitioning from gastric tube (G tube) feedings to oral feedings.
Negative mealtime behaviors (infant cries, arches, pulls away from food; child refuses to eat, tantrums at mealtimes or “shuts-down” and does not engage in mealtime).
Infant demonstrating signs of difficulty with coordinating the suck/swallow/breath pattern during bottle or breastfeeding.
Feeding time taking longer than 30 minutes for infants, and 30 to 40 minutes for toddlers or young children.
Known to be a “picky eater” who eats a limited variety of foods or consistencies.
What skills are taught in feeding therapy?
Oral skills- Some children may lack the skills needed to eat and/or drink due to developmental delays, illness, allergies and a variety of other factors. When this is the case, therapists work with children to teach them how to control and coordinate chewing, sipping, sucking swallowing and the like while eating and drinking. Therapists also work with children to increase each child’s oral strength and range of motion.
Food orientation- Due to illness, allergies, sensory aversion or developmental delays, some children may need assistance broadening the amount and type of foods they eat. Therapists work with children and their families to increase the amount and types of foods the child is willing to eat.
Improve the overall eating experience- Whether a child has struggled to eat because of illness or allergies, a sensory aversion food, and/or reduced oral skills, he or she may have developed negative feelings toward eating and mealtime in the process. As a result many children, and their families, benefit from learning how to create positive eating and drinking experiences. Therapists work with children and their families to improve the child’s overall mealtime routine and create positive associations with food. Therapists also work with children to help them gain the self-feeding independence that many of them crave by teaching skills like drinking from a cup, eating with a spoon or fork or drinking from a straw.