Is your child a “picky eater?” Does your child struggle to participate at mealtimes? Often, these children are evaluated and treated by a speech-language pathologist to help improve feeding issues that may be related to delays in sensory or motor skills.>
A typical feeding session, in the private clinical setting, is usually 30-45 minutes and includes the therapist, parent, and child of concern. Depending on the child’s needs, food presentations can vary, but typically foods are provided by the clinic. If a child struggles with colors of foods, a If you have a picky eater, your child may benefit from hierarchy of foods that transition from one color to another may be presented. These are usually presented with a preferred food first, so a child may feel successful.
If a child struggles with sensory components of a food, a favorite food might be presented and then altered across successive presentations. For example, if a child will eat raw broccoli stems only, the child could be presented with the stems, then the stem with the floret, then a stem that is steamed, then a stem and floret steamed, then mashed broccoli, etc. This would expose the child to different textures, but with a food he/she likes.
If the child struggles with an oral-motor component of eating, such as chewing, foods of different density may be provided to demonstrate appropriate chewing, either rotary or vertical. For examples, a long carrot stick may be used to move back the gag reflex and help the child to chew and increase jaw strength.
Across these food presentations, the speech-language pathologist will typically eat with the child to model and provide positive reinforcement. Parents are encouraged to do the same at home during mealtimes. During each session, strategies will be modeled and provided to the parent, and the parent will typically be given a handout or “take-home tool” to carryover skills at home.
Since mealtimes are often at home, it is important that the parent works closely with the therapist to implement skills at home for maximum progress. Progress can vary per child, but treatment typically takes up to 2 years. Speech-language pathologists and families are a team! We are all working together to help children feel successful at mealtimes.
For more information about feeding therapy, call Speech & Occupational Therapy of North Texas and a speech language pathologist will be happy to answer your questions.