What is Feeding Therapy
Feeding therapy is an intervention where a trained feeding specialist helps a client who has difficulty either eating food, or trying new food. Feeding therapy is typically carried out by a speech-language pathologist or an occupational therapist who specializes in the area of feeding.
Feeding therapy can be implemented as early as 4 to 6 months of age. The first step is determining whether or not professional help is needed.
When to call:
I encourage any parent that I talk to who has a concern with their child’s feeding to at the very least have a conversation with a feeding therapist. If the parent is at the point where they are actually concerned, and a vocalizing their concerns, there is usually good reason.
Where to look for getting feeding therapy
Talk to your pediatrician and express your concerns
Look up speech language pathologist or an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding in your area
Depending on the age, call the early intervention program in your state (your pediatrician can guide you here, or you can reach out to your states local parent helpline).
First step to take to start feeding therapy
The first step to starting feeding therapy is to get a comprehensive evaluation.
The professional you are working with the will carry out an evaluation to see where the area of deficits are occurring that are causing the feeding behaviors you are seeing. Some parents may say, “oh he’s just stubborn”, or “I used to be a picky eater he’s just like me”. This may be true, however; there also may be an underlying reason for the stubbornness. Some of the underlying reasons may stem from issues with the child’s ability to physically chew and swallow food, and their sensory systems ability to tolerate and enjoy food.
What a feeding evaluation looks like:
The professional you are working with will look into the following:
- Feeding history
- Current state of eating
- How the child is chewing
- How the child is drinking
- The structure of the child’s mouth
- Their dentition
- What they look like when they are eating
- Behaviors that occur before/during/after meal times
- The family’s meal time dynamics
- The family’s relationship to how the child eats.
What feeding therapy can look like
Feeding therapy is very unique to each individual’s needs. Here is a list of some of the more common areas that are addressed in feeding therapy
- Talking about food
- Discussing feelings around foods and meal time
- Exploring without eating it (see this post for what exploring food can look like)
- How to modify foods to fit the child’s oral sensory-motor needs
- Building up the child’s oral sensory-motor skills necessary for eating
- Building up the child’s emotional well being and outlook around new foods
After the feeding therapy session
The most important part to feeding therapy is carryover. You and your feeding therapist will come up with attainable goals you can work on during the week. These could be exercises, or attempts at exploring new foods.
Mindset is everything
The parent AND the child must believe the child can succeed at feeding therapy. Years of combat at the dinner table will not be reversed in two weeks. Most of the children I see have had months or even years of power struggles with parents, and extreme frustration around food. An overall shift in how you as the parent consistently present food, and encourage your child to eat must occur. This is challenging and will most likely take time. With time, the right professional collaboration, and a whole lot of patience, parents can most certainly become the best feeding therapist for their child.
For more speech and language tips, follow Speech and Feeding Kids on YouTube.
About the Author
DRAKE HASTINGS M.S., CCC-SLP
Drake Hastings is a speech-language pathologist who specializes in speech, oral motor, and feeding therapy for kids. Drake has a passion for working with children and families while helping children achieve goals using a fun and motivating approach to learning.
Drake’s main areas of focus within the practice are feeding therapy, and speech (sound production) therapy. Drake has experience working with children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Apraxia of Speech, Dysarthria, Down Syndrome, and rare genetic disorders. Drake has experience working and collaborating with a wide variety of families and therapeutic team members while treating children of all ages.