Does Your Child Need a Feeding Therapist? (Part 1)

girl with food on her nose

This post was originally published in 2011 – but has come up in conversation a lot lately – so I thought I’d give it a few updates and make it more easily accessible on my site.

Whenever I do speaking engagements about family meals or cooking with kids to groups of parents, someone inevitably shares a story about their challenges in getting their kids to eat.  I mean REAL challenges.  Like their child only eats 5 different foods.  Ever.

It got me thinking…there must be LOTS of families in this same situation.  I talked with my friend Dawn, feeding therapists and she agreed to answer some questions. Hopefully they can offer some support if you are experiencing difficulty at home.

Q & A with a Feeding Therapist

Question: What are some of the common issues, behaviors and physical conditions that you treat?

Answer: In 15 years of treating children with feeding and swallowing issues, I have only had one child that truly had a behavior problem. What most people identify as “behaviors” are actually signs and symptoms a child conveys when there is an underling medical issue.  Most of the time, parents aren’t even aware such issues exist.  I spend a lot of my time educating parents on why their child might be reacting in a certain way.

Question: Many people have never heard of a feeding therapist.  Can you explain what you do and offer an example?

Answer: I evaluate children and assess if they are a picky eater or a problem feeder; have a feeding or swallowing disorder; an oral motor disorder; neophobia; or sensory issues related to eating and drinking. Once we know what medical issues the child has, then a treatment plan is established based on their particular needs. Most importantly the parent is trained and empowered to address their child’s feeding challenges in their own kitchen!

Here’s an example: I had a client that refused to eat certain textures, so her mother would blend all of her foods. The therapist the mother was working with advised using a force-feeding program.  When that wasn’t successful, the mother came to me for help. After an extensive oral motor evaluation, I found the child had a cleft palate.  In this case, there was a small hole in the roof of her mouth that allowed food to pass through her palate into her nasal cavity.  This caused increased congestion, ear infections and general discomfort, which led to food refusals by the child. Once surgery was performed to heal the cleft palate, the child was able to eat every texture and new food presented.  After that, they no longer needed my services.

Question: What are some warning signs or indications that a child might need a feeding therapist?

Answer: If your child experiences some of the following examples, he/she may have a feeding disorder and could use assistance and education from a feeding therapist.

Does your child…
…eat less than 20 foods?
…scream/cry when ‘new’ foods are presented?
…avoid certain food groups?
…have aversions to textures, tastes and smells?
…have overall difficulties with eating and drinking?
…have mealtime ‘behaviors’?
…seem to have a fear of food?
…have foods they once loved to eat, but refuses them now?
…have to have the TV on in order to eat?
…refuse to eat with other people or in other environments?

Many thanks to Dawn, the Owner and Clinical Director of Spectrum Speech and Feeding, LLC. For more information about Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP check out www.SpectrumSpeech.com.  You can also follow her on Twitter (@SpectrumSpeech) and on Facebook (www.facebook.com/SpectrumSpeech).

Come back next week for Part 2 of this topic.  In the meantime, please share if your child has ever seen a feeding therapist and how it helped your family.

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6 Responses to Does Your Child Need a Feeding Therapist? (Part 1)

  1. Cara says:

    What an excellent article about the role of feeding therapists and challenging eaters! My son has always been a challenging eater, and we went through some feeding therapy (unsuccessfully) before we discovered that the my son’s MAIN problem is that he suffers from gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying). Because his stomach empties slowly, he is never hungry, and as a result never eats much of anything. He’s still got his fair share of food aversions and texture issues, but discovering the underlying medical condition was HUGE for us. My son (now almost 4) has a g-button (feeding tube) to get the supplemental nutrition he needs at night and eats orally during the day. Thanks for discussing this important topic!

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  3. gwin rizo says:

    I have a child that either gags or chokes or chews and spits up food he has a cleft palette however it has been fixed for years now

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  6. Maggie Allen says:

    I didn’t know that so many children can have a problem eating different foods or swallowing. However, it makes sense, especially since all people usually only have breast milk for the first year of their life. Although my son is just a few months old, it’s good to know potential feeding problems in the future. Hopefully he eats more than 20 foods!

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