Many parents have never heard of feeding therapy and do not know what it is until they need to. With an estimated 20-45% of children having difficulty feeding at some stage of life, this type of therapy is becoming more popular and necessary. It is usually done by a speech or occupational therapist, although psychologists may also specialize in feeding therapy.
A combination of therapies are usually utilized and include oral-motor therapy, behavioral therapy and food chaining. Behavioral interventions for children include verbal cues and praise as well as toys and TV as rewards.
When looking for a feeding therapist you want to find one that has been trained in this area and has experience. To find a feeding therapist, call your local children’s hospital and ask for a referral. Children’s hospitals have feeding therapists on staff and have often have therapists to refer patients to once they are discharged. Pediatricians may also be able to help you find a qualified therapist in your area. Also be sure to search our feeding therapist directory. If you are having trouble feeding your child it is good to have a feeding therapist observe a meal to see the relationship between you and your child, and she may be able to give you tips and techniques to help immediately while they work with your child on a long term fix.
What is oral-motor therapy?
Oral-motor therapy is primarily used to strengthen the muscles of the mouth, lips, and cheeks. It can include stretching exercises, licking various things and textures, blowing through a straw, chewing on a special stick or brush, and sucking.
Oral-motor therapy is an important part of feeding therapy if your child is stuck on a particular consistency of food and is unable to get past it, because if they have not been exposed to certain textures the muscles that are required to handle these textures are have never developed. Either way, feeding therapy can help a great deal in dealing with food aversion. For more information and books on oral motor therapy, visit our store.
What is behavioral therapy?
Behavioral therapy works to change behaviors by rewarding good behaviors and punishing bad. Many feeding therapists will not punish however will reward good behavior by allowing toys and TV and ignoring bad behavior by not giving toys or TV. Most feeding therapists use some form of behavioral therapy to encourage new foods and decrease bad behaviors during feeding such as spitting, screaming, or swatting. For more information on behavioral therapy, visit our store.
What is food chaining?
Food chaining is also a popular form of treatment for children who refuse certain foods. Food chaining consists of multiple steps and takes time, however is very effective if done correctly. First the therapist has the food on the child’s plate, and then has him smell it, touch it, kiss it, lick it and finally taste it.
It can take weeks or even months to get the child to that final step of tasting it, depending on how severe the feeding issue is, however it is a good way to expose these foods to children in a safe environment. For more information on food chaining, visit our store.
Things to consider when choosing a feeding therapist.
Feeding therapy consists of many different techniques. It is important to find a qualified feeding therapist you are comfortable with. You need to trust your therapist and communicate with them if you feel they are doing something that is not in the best interest of your child. You may feel your therapist is too tough on your child or not tough enough and it is important you speak up and share these concerns.
Although the feeding therapist is going to be the primary person helping your child, it is also important you are working with a doctor and dietitian if your child is tube fed, has failure to thrive or food allergies. These team members will help your feeding therapist decide which foods she can try and how far she can push your child without harming him.