Pediatric Feeding Problems and Speech Therapy

Delay vs. Disorder

When it comes to pediatric feeding problems, a delay refers to a gap in development. Learning to eat is a developmental process because it’s a fine-motor skill. When a child is delayed in any skill, if the gap is mild, they may just need a little boost or a few ideas from a professional to catch up with peers. If a child’s skills are lagging enough to cause concern, they may need a formal feeding evaluation so that a professional can assess their development. A child may have a feeding disorder if the assessment shows they are not progressing through feeding skills like biting, chewing, and swallowing a variety of age-appropriate foods in a safe and effective manner. If the delay or gap in development continues, it may require treatment from a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP).

5 Signs Your Child Might Benefit from Speech Therapy

  1. Mealtimes are stressful (for everyone)
  2. Concerns about weight gain and adequate nutrition
  3. The list of foods your child eats is starting to dwindle
  4. Frequent gagging or vomiting
  5. Dependence on liquids for caloric intake (e.g., milk, premade shakes)

What Feeding Skills Do SLPs Work On?

  • Strengthening oral muscles
  • Increasing mobility of the tongue
  • Chewing skills
  • Improving cup and straw drinking skills
  • Teaching babies to breathe w
  • Managing safe swallowing by altering food textures or liquid thickness
  • Managing behaviors such as staying seated during meals and not throwing food
  • Managing sensory issues like tolerating different textures and addressing food jags (sticking to only a few food choices)
  • Trying new foods and drinks
  • Transitioning to more complex foods, such as from milk to purees and soft solids to hard solids
Another thing to consider is that extremely picky eating may also indicate a feeding disorder. Knowing the difference between picky eating and a feeding disorder can help determine whether therapy is needed.

Picky Eating vs. Feeding Disorder

Signs of picky eating:

  • Limits variety of foods eaten—usually fewer than 30
  • Eats at least one food from each food texture and color
  • Able to tolerate new foods on their plate
  • Will usually touch or taste new foods, even if reluctantly
  • Will return to foods they become “burned out” on after about a two-week break
  • Will eat a new food after being exposed to it at least 10 times
Signs of a feeding disorder:
  • Restricts variety of foods eaten—usually fewer than 20
  • Eats fewer and fewer foods over time
  • Refuses certain textures, temperatures, and/or colors altogether
  • Unable to tolerate new foods when presented to them—cries, throws tantrum
  • Complete refusal of new foods—no smelling, touching, etc.
  • Gags when presented with new/non-preferred foods and may gag when others eat their non-preferred foods
  • Will not return to a food they become “burned out” on
  • Needs more than 10 exposures to accept a new food
  • Often has inadequate caloric intake, poor weight gain and growth, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies
If you suspect your child may have a feeding disorder, the therapists at Trestle can help. We work with both the child and family so that there is support all around. Listed below are some simple things you can do to promote healthy eating habits

Strategies for Parents

  • Offer the child a variety of foods each meal—include both new and preferred foods
  • Implement a consistent meal/snack schedule and avoid eating outside of those times
  • Eat as a family to create a positive social experience during meals
  • Reduce pressure to eat, as it can be counterproductive—it is your job to offer options but their choice to eat as much or as little as they want
  • Make mealtimes fun and involve them in preparation
We hope you find this information helpful. If you’d like to schedule an assessment with one of our Speech Language Pathologists, please give us a call or shoot us an email and we can get started.

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