Does My Child Need Feeding Therapy?
By Ashley Schafer Karcher
The desire to feed your child successfully is a fundamental part of being a parent. Feeding time should be a nurturing and bonding experience, and when feeding is challenging, it can be stressful. It can impact the entire family on a daily basis.
According to the Neonatal and Pediatric Medicine Journal, feeding problems are estimated to occur in 25-percent of normally developing children and in 35-percent of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities.
The lives of many families with kids who struggle with feeding issues have been changed for the better by feeding therapy. This kind of therapy is a process in which a therapist counsels and leads a child through therapeutic steps, with the goal of getting the child to try out foods on his or her own. Children with feeding disorders are sometimes the most complex pediatric patients that speech-language pathologists treat.
According to Lori M. Kilpatrick, M.S., CCC-SLP — a speech-language pathologist and feeding specialist in Ocean Springs — children who need feeding therapy are those who are true problem feeders, and not just your everyday “picky eaters.” Feeding therapy is designed to help children who have difficulty eating due to either an oral motor problem (the muscles in their mouths don’t work properly for chewing and swallowing food); a sensory problem (children have sensory processing disorders which affect ability to eat a variety of flavors and textures); or a food allergy and/or food sensitivity.
“The goal of feeding therapy is to expand the child’s food repertoire, and for them to learn to explore and try a variety of foods,” Kilpatrick said. “In feeding therapy, we don’t teach a child to eat a specific food, but rather teach the child to explore and try a variety of foods so they are more comfortable and know what to do in other settings when new foods are offered.”
“The benefits of feeding therapy are healthier and happier children and families,” Kilpatrick continued. “Meal times can be very stressful for parents who have a child who doesn’t eat well. We work with parents to educate them on the best way to support their children and help them learn how to eat better at home as well.”
Kilpatrick said the technique used in her clinic is called The Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) approach, which focuses on the sensory component of feeding as well as the oral motor skills required for feeding.
If you are concerned about your child’s eating habits or growth development, please speak with your child’s pediatrician. Addressing feeding problems early helps shape future food associations, behaviors and physical growth.
Feeding Red Flags:
1. Children who eat less than 20 foods.
2. Children who are underweight or not maintaining a growth curve at their check-ups.
3. Difficulty transitioning to baby foods at 10 months or older.
4. Difficulty transitioning to table foods at 16 months or older.
5. Choking or gagging on foods or liquids.
6. Discontinue eating a food that was previously enjoyed.
7. Eating one particular food item from a specific restaurant.
8. Not feeding themselves.
9. Only eats with distractions.
Ashley Schafer Karcher lives in Ocean Springs with her husband and four children.