Kids can develop eating disorders, and as difficult as this is for both child and parent, there is hope to correct the disorder. Ways to deal with problematic behavior related to food include feeding therapy; literally millions of kids and their families have benefited from feeding therapy.
Factors that contribute to childhood eating disorders can include down syndrome, ASD (autism spectrum disorders), and more. A lot of kids are “picky eaters” but when it gets to the point that this fastidiousness affects nutrition it is a problem.
Also, children start feeding by sucking as babies and then progressing gradually to solid food and being able to drink from a cup. Spills are common in this process and most kids will gag or spit out new foods at first. This is completely normal behavior that disappears over time. When the behavior doesn’t go away, the child has a feeding disorder.
The professionals who deal with problematic childhood eating are speech language pathologists, otherwise known as SLPs, as they have the expertise on swallowing and other oral misbehaviors, fixations, etc.
Do you suspect that your child may need feeding therapy? Here are 10 key aspects of the feeding therapy process and things to look for.
1. Evaluating the Problem
A SLP will evaluate the child’s swallowing and feeding problems in a hospital setting where a child psychologist, gastroenterologist, and other medical professionals are on site.
2. From Assessment to Therapy
It’s usually the case that a child’s feeding problem have multiple causes and a therapeutic approach has to address all of them. For instance, painful acid reflux can force kids to “learn” not to eat. A medication can stop the acid reflux, but the problem behavior also needs to be unlearned.
3. Involving the Family
Eating disorders are a highly emotional issue. When a child has a feeding issue, this affects the entire family. Parents and older siblings need to give the child with a feeding disorder additional love, care and understanding.
4. Always Be Patient
Feeding therapy takes time, so be patient–very patient–with your child. A feeding disorder means that -for whatever reason- your child had something go awry in their developmental process. The therapist needs to then guide your child through many different steps as they develop these necessary skills. In some cases, it could be the case that your child needs to learn how to chew properly.
5. It Takes Time
It’s worth repeating the previous point. It does take a lot of time to properly address a childhood eating disorder. A lot of this time is often spent by the therapists simply trying to find out what the root causes of the problem are, before they can even start with therapy.
6. The Child’s Community
In addition to you, your co-parent, and the child’s siblings being aware and empathetic, teachers, friends, and others in your child’s circle need to be in the know regarding your child’s feeding problems.
7. Resist the Impulse to Compare Kids
Feeding therapy is never a one-size-fits-all proposition. The process that starts at evaluation and then continues with therapy needs to be specific to the child. This is why it’s never a good idea to give parents a definite time frame or assume that because one therapeutic approach worked for one child that it will work for another. That’s simply not the case.
Parents need to be prepared for the long haul when it comes to feeding therapy. If your child is exhibiting aversion to eating, has trouble swallowing (dysphagia), has trouble chewing, or any of these and more issues in combination, the therapeutic process is slow and progresses in tiny steps. At any rate, let your child always know that you love them unconditionally.
If you still want to learn more about childhood eating disorders and feeding therapy, another great resource is the website speakliveplay.com, which is run by Los Angeles based speech pathologist Melissa Peters M.S. It’s also possible to get in contact with Peters directly by emailing her at melissa@speakliveplay or even phone her at 973-945-9257. She gladly shares her evidence-based accounts with parents and can even be helpful when it comes to finding the best speech language pathologist that deals with feeding therapy in your area.