What is Feeding Therapy?
Feeding therapy is used to help infants, children, and teens who have difficulties sucking, chewing or swallowing. It can also help children who have sensitive gag reflexes or who have oral sensory issues with textures or flavors. It can be a huge help for picky eaters, toddlers, and for very small children who need to learn how to move to solid foods. Simply: this specialized therapy should help your child learn how to eat or how to eat better.
Who treats feeding therapy?
An occupational therapist or speech-language pathologist is the trained medical professional that provides feeding and swallowing therapy. These therapists may work together to treat a child and they may work as part of a team with allergists, nutritionists, ENTS, and other health professionals depending on your child’s needs.
Our therapists work closely with patients and their families to figure out why a child is having trouble eating and then develop very specific therapies to make the entire process of eating easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved.
What does feeding therapy look like?
This specialized therapy often happens on a weekly basis, but can be every other week. Sessions are usually 30-60 minutes long. A therapist might introduce new foods if your child has a very limited diet. They may also work on how to eat if they don’t know how to chew or manage food in their mouth.
Therapy can also include oral strengthening exercises to help your child move foods to different parts of their mouth, swallow, etc. Therapy may mean participating in various sensory integration activities. Examples might include blowing bubbles, making silly faces, using flavored swabs and textured brushes, or using whistles.
Before you begin weekly appointments, an evaluation is completed first. This is usually less than an hour and is made up of an interview with you and a therapist and possibly observing your child eat a small snack or drink.
Does my child need feeding therapy?
This can be a complicated question! Per the American Speech-Hearing Association, many children will have difficulties with new foods, they may gag when solids are first introduced, and they may be a very picky eater. This is normal and they should grow out of it. If they do not grow out of it or if these issues cause further health or behavioral concerns, feeding therapy might be needed.
Symptoms of Feeding and Swallowing Disorders:
- Arches her back or stiffens when feeding
- Cries or fusses when feeding
- Falls asleep when feeding
- Has problems breast feeding
- Has trouble breathing while eating and drinking
- Refuses to eat or drink
- Eats only certain textures, such as soft food or crunchy food
- Takes a long time to eat
- Has problems chewing
- Coughs or gags during meals
- Drools a lot or has liquid come out her mouth or nose
- Gets stuffy during meals
- Has a gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice during or after meals
- Spits up or throws up a lot
- Is not gaining weight or growing
Symptoms listed are from the ASHA Feeding and Swallowing Disorders Guidelines.
Why is feeding therapy important?
Not every child has one or more of the symptoms listed above. Feeding therapy can not only help your child and family enjoy mealtimes more, but it can also help avoid risks such as:
- dehydration or poor nutrition
- food or liquid going into the airway
- pneumonia or other lung infections
- feeling embarrassed about his eating problems. He may eat alone or refuse to eat around others.
How do I get feeding therapy for my child?
The first place to go for getting your child set up for feeding therapy is to talk to their doctor. Doctors typically prescribe feeding therapy early on if there is a concern for weight gain or oral motor development. If you notice any lingering symptoms from the above list, give your child’s doctor a call and see if the feel feeding therapy is a good fit to help your child. If they agree with you then they will send a referral to our office for an evaluation and treatment.