Are you concerned that your child is not getting adequate nutrition because they gag while they’re eating, will only eat chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese, or refuse to eat at all? Are you at your wits end because they have tantrums at the table or throw their food? Pediatric feeding therapy can improve your child’s relationship with food and help them to eat a wider variety of foods more safely.
Understanding Pediatric Feeding Disorders
Pediatric feeding disorders can be troubling because if your child is not maintaining a healthy weight or has nutritional deficiencies, it can affect their growth and development. It can also be stressful on you as a parent because it makes mealtime frustrating and you’re concerned about their health. Some common signs of pediatric feeding disorders include:
- Refusal to try new foods
- Trouble chewing or swallowing
- Aversion to certain food textures
- Gagging or vomiting
- Tantrums at mealtime
There can be many causes of pediatric feeding disorders including food allergies, palate defects, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD), delayed exposure to different foods, digestive disorders and or conditions such as autism spectrum disorders. It is estimated that 80 percent of individuals with developmental disabilities and upwards of 45 percent of typically developing children have some type of feeding problem.
Feeding Evaluation Basics
Feeding evaluations are conducted to determine the scope and severity of your child’s feeding problems. The therapist may want to see your child while they are eating or attempting to eat, and will use a variety of tests and tools to assess underlying problems. The issue may be with how their mouth works or their sensory perception, it could be behavioral, or it could be a combination of problems. Most children fall into four categories of feeding problems: total food refusal, food selectivity, texture selectivity, and deficits in related skills such as self-feeding or bite regulation.
Once an evaluation is completed, the therapist will consult with your child’s primary physician, gastrointestinal physician, nutritionist and occupational therapist as necessary. Then you will be provided with a report on the findings and appropriate therapeutic services will be discussed. Your child’s treatment plan will be based on their individual needs and goals.
Feeding Disorders Treatment Program
Before any pediatric feeding therapy treatment is provided, we will consult with your child’s pediatrician to ensure that it is safe for them to feed orally. Even if it is determined that it is not safe, they could still benefit from feeding therapy to improve their oral abilities and oral exploration, which are essential to other developmental skills. As they grow and mature, it may become safe for them to eat at a later time, in which case treatment can be adjusted.
Parents must also be prepared to participate in the treatment process. You will be taught how to implement appropriate feeding techniques and routines at home to help improve progress. It’s important that therapists and parents are working at the same speed toward achieving the same goal. You should be willing to spend at least 10-15 minutes per day addressing feeding and adhering to a daily routine.
While every child is different, typical pediatric feeding therapy program goals include:
- Increasing variety of solid foods accepted
- Increasing volume of solid foods and/or liquids
- Increasing variety of liquids accepted
- Increasing texture of solid foods accepted
- Increasing self-feeding skills
- Decreasing meal duration
- Decreasing disruptive mealtime behaviors (e.g., crying, screaming, hitting, throwing food, spitting)
With the right treatment and support, mealtimes can be more enjoyable and beneficial for your child. They’ll be eating a wider variety of foods with less disruptions and better meeting their nutritional needs. Don’t let feeding disorders derail your child’s growth and development or make mealtimes unbearable. Contact PediaPlex today to learn how a pediatric feeding therapy program can help.