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Melanie Potock
BY Melanie Potock

10 Things You Should Know about Feeding Therapy

“I never imagined my child would have trouble eating.”  Those words are often one of the first comments parents have for me when they ask about feeding therapy.  As a pediatric speech pathologist who specializes in feeding, I have the joy of being a “food coach” for kids and their families as we progress through the developmental process of learning to eat a variety of foods.

Whether working with children with special needs such as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Down syndrome or Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or with a child coined the “picky eater” of the family, the ultimate goal of feeding therapy is to establish regular, nutritious family meals that are joyful for the entire family.

Here are the top 10 things I want you to know before starting feeding therapy:

1. It starts with an evaluation

Typically conducted by a speech language pathologist or occupational therapist who specializes in feeding and swallowing difficulties in children, these evaluations can be done in a variety of settings.  In a hospital setting, the evaluation may include a team of professionals, such as a gastroenterologist, psychologist and more.

2. It may not be the first place to start

Talk to your pediatrician about your concerns.  If it feels like more than typical “picky eating” or  it causes you stress in any way, insist on more help.  If you don’t get an answer that feels comfortable to you, get a second opinion or even a third

3. Where to find help

Early intervention services
For children birth to age 3.  Call your local office and ask if they have experienced therapists to evaluate your child for feeding issues.  Evaluations are free and include gross & fine motor skills, speech and more. If your child qualifies based on that evaluation (regardless of income) treatment is provided for free in the natural environment, often in the home.

Call your state’s children’s hospital
and request a “feeding evaluation.”

Private therapists who sometimes do home visits
can be found via the American Speech Language Association’s “find a pro” link .  An excellent source of OTs trained in sensory integration, a strong component of feeding therapy, can be found here.

4. Assessment and therapy

should address the whole child.  In my experience, I’ve rarely met a child that was having difficulty because of just one issue.  For example, kids with chronic acid reflux or GERD quickly learn not to eat, because it hurts.  We can put the child on medication to stop the pain, but the learned behavior (and likely a new sensory component as well) is still there, and needs to be addressed.

5. Family dynamics are part of feeding therapy

Feeding your child is emotional: It’s about nurturing, bonding, love and responsibility as a parent.  When feeding is challenging, it’s stressful and it impacts the entire family on a daily basis.

6. It takes time

First, eating is a developmental process.  When a child has difficulty eating, it means they have stalled in the midst of learning a new skill.  Regardless of their age, the therapist will begin to teach the step by step process wherever they are having trouble (e.g. chewing) as a means to reaching the long term goal of independent, healthy eating.

7. I’ll say it again, it takes time

That’s because your therapist and feeding team will be doing a lot of detective work to learn what factors are impacting your child’s resistance to eating.  Then, those elements need to be resolved one at a time.

8. It takes a village

YOU are the most important part of the feeding team.  You spend the most time with your child, know your child and family best and know what feels right.  Good feeding therapists understand and honor that relationship.

9. It doesn’t look the same from child to child

You may observe other kids in a feeding group or meet other parents who describe different techniques and strategies that your therapist uses with their child.  That’s because every child is different and cookie-cutter approaches to therapy are best, well, when making cookies and that’s about it.

10. Focus on small steps

Therapists have the advantage of charting every inch of progress and often having some time between appointments with your child.  But, when you are immersed in trying to feed your child 3 meals a day plus snacks, it’s not always easy to see progress. Your therapist will give you small goals to work on each week and together, we will celebrate every single accomplishment!

Watch for more articles from Melanie on feeding therapy for infants, toddlers & older children in the near future!

Melanie Potock

Written on January 22, 2014 by:

Feeding specialist Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP and pediatrician Dr. Nimali Fernando are the co-authors of the award-winning book, Raising a Healthy Happy Eater: A Stage-by-Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating. Melanie in an international speaker, training OTs, RDs and SLPs in feeding therapy and offering parent presentations to the special needs community. Dr. Fernando (Dr. Yum) and Melanie (Coach Mel) joined forces to create the Doctor Yum Preschool Food Adventure as part of The Doctor Yum Project, a non-profit focused on helping families create a culture of wellness in their communities. Dr. Yum gives our more recipes than prescriptions - she's your pediatrician in the kitchen! Together, they created the website, the new go-to resource for parents who want to learn how to raise adventurous eaters, even if they have a child who is hesitant to try new foods. Their 5 hour video course, The Picky Eater Course, is specifically designed for both parents and professionals who want to truly understand how children become courageous, joyful eaters and learn to love healthy foods!