What is Feeding Therapy?
Feeding therapy is more than just simply, “teaching a child how to eat.” At Carolina Therapy Connection, our occupational and speech therapists use a collaborative approach to work closely with you and your child to determine the source of their feeding difficulties, and develop specific intervention plans to make the entire eating process easier and more enjoyable. Often times, feeding therapy happens on a weekly basis and may consist of working on difficulty with trying new foods, chewing, swallowing, sensory issues, irritability at meal time and so much more. Our goals are to broaden your child’s scope of foods, teach them the benefits of healthy eating, and develop oral motor skills needed for optimal growth and nutrition.
How do I know if my child needs feeding therapy?
All picky eaters are not created equal, and it is a blanket term that we often use to describe any child that has specific food preferences, or might not like their vegetables. As a parent, it is important to know when feeding therapy would benefit your child’s mealtime patterns. Many extreme or severe picky eaters start off as “average picky eaters.” If your child is experiencing any of the signs below, feeding therapy might be a good option for making mealtime easier on you and your child.
Newborn – 24 Months
- Difficulty with breast feeding (latching during breast feeding)
- Difficulty in transitions: This includes difficulty taking liquids/formula/milk from a bottle, sippy cup or open cup, and transitioning between food stages
- Poor weight gain
- Negative mealtime behaviors (infant cries, back arches, pulls away from food; child refuses to eat, tantrums at mealtimes or “shuts-down” and does not engage in mealtime)
- Falls asleep when feeding
- Has trouble breathing while eating and drinking
- Duration of meal-time is longer than normal
- Problems with chewing
- Coughs or gags during meals
- Drools a lot or has liquid come out her mouth or nose
- Has a gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice during or after meals
- Spits up or throws up a lot
- Cleft lip or palate
- Reflux or other stomach problems
2 Years Old+
- Negative or avoidant behaviors during mealtimes
- Known as a “Picky Eater” (Limited diet that includes less than 10-15 foods)
- Refusal to try new foods of any kind
- Only able to eat when food is cut into very small pieces
- Negative Behaviors: refusal to eat, throwing up, gagging, spitting out, etc.
- Poor weight gain
- Will only eat specific brands of foods (i.e. McDonald’s chicken nuggets)
- Does not eat from all food groups
- Will only eat certain food consistencies
What skills are taught during feeding therapy?
Our Occupational Therapists take a sensory-based feeding approach to therapy. They focus on: oral motor skills, sensory sensitivities, progressing through food textures, and using adaptive equipment and tools to develop self-feeding skills. They also use a process called food chaining, which is a child-friendly treatment approach that helps introduce new foods while building on the child’s past successful eating experiences. In this process, the child is presented with new foods that may be similar in taste, temperature, or texture to foods the child already likes and accepts. Our occupational therapists are certified in the SOS Feeding Approach, a nationally and internationally recognized approach for assessing and treating children with feeding difficulties.
Our Speech Therapists use a motor-based feeding therapy approach that focuses on the child’s oral motor and swallowing skills (i.e. how the mouth and swallowing functions work). They focus on: developing the muscles of the mouth and tongue, improving breathing and sucking functions, and developing specific mouth/jaw/tongue movement patterns, changing the way you hold your baby or the way your child sits when eating. Our speech therapists are trained in VitalStim Therapy; a non-invasive therapy to help swallowing using electrical stimulation to aid muscle strengthening. We use VitalStim while simultaneously working with the child on swallowing exercises. We also provide the caregiver with education and training on how to use strengthening and positioning techniques at home for optimal progress.
What roles do parents and caregivers play in feeding therapy?
Caregivers and parents are vital members to the child’s care team during feeding therapy. At Carolina Therapy Connection, we take a family-centered approach and encourage all caregivers to be involved in feeding therapy session carryover. Decisions regarding the child’s treatment plan include the child’s oral skill level (what he or she is able to chew, sip or swallow), the family’s culture and lifestyle choices, the child’s specific nutritional needs and any sensory or food texture experiences the overall therapy is addressing.
In order to provide patients what they need at home, our therapists teach the child’s caregivers:
- Adaptive feeding strategies and general advice for mealtime at home
- Tactics for addressing negative mealtime behaviors
- How to properly encourage the child at home to eat the new foods introduced during therapy sessions
- To keep a food log of what the child eats and how he or she acts at mealtime and reacts to new foods
Carolina Therapy Connection wants to help YOU!
Our feeding therapists have 15-20 years of experience with children of all ages and a variety of feeding disorders. They have certifications in SOS and AEIOU approaches and significant training from around the country on feeding approaches, treatment strategies, and focused plans. We also having consistent collaboration with other professionals in the community to guarantee the best care. Call our clinic at 252-341-9944 for a free phone screening with one of our feeding therapists and schedule an evaluation today!