Mealtimes should be a happy family time. A time when everyone sits around the table, enjoying a meal together and chatting about their days. However, for some children mealtimes is a dreaded time of the day. Some children have an issue with food and eating.

This can be extremely stressful for the whole family as worries arise about the lack of food and nutrition getting into the child’s body. This worry can cause additional stress for the child as the parents persist and this can lead to a very unhappy mealtime for everyone.

So how can an occupational therapist help your child with eating?

Here at Breakthrough Therapy Solutions we work with children that have delays with development or sensory feeding difficulties. If your child has autism, sensory processing disorder, ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) or refusal of foods then they could really benefit from feeding therapy. Children with a limited intake of foods, developmental delays with feeding or sensitivities with food textures could also benefit from the help of an occupational therapist. We have also seen how much feeding therapy sessions can help children with swallowing phobias, oral motor delays or mealtime difficulties and tantrums. In addition, we have seen how feeding therapy can help children who have experienced trauma such as periods in NICU or insertion of NG tubes that has affected feeding or swallowing.

Feeding therapy will often occur during occupational therapy sessions, or can be implemented as a stand-alone therapy. This will often be as part of the therapy process for sensory processing disorder. The occupational therapist will undertake a history and assessment and determine whether the difficulties are sensory, or oral motor, or a combination, and any triggers for your child. The therapist will also gain an understanding of what your child likes and dislikes at home and what their current familiar foods are.

There are many different techniques and steps involved in feeding therapy. These can include things like looking at the food or smelling the food. Your child may also be encouraged to touch, kiss or lick the food. This will then move on tasting the food or easting the food. We also work on desensitisation of the face and mouth area to support feeding, as well as developing oral motor skills for eating and working on cutlery use.

Don’t be surprised if your child is encouraged to spit the food out or wash their hands during the food therapy, or if they don’t touch the new food straight away. These are just some of the steps involved when an occupational therapist helps your child with eating.

Your occupational therapist will work with you and your child to make eating an enjoyable experience, and broaden the range of foods your child will accept, so mealtimes can be an enjoyable family time again.

Some top tips for mealtimes:

· Make sure your child is sat in a chair with their feet flat on the floor or supported by a footplate or stool so that they are grounded.

· Mealtimes should last no longer than 30 minutes whether they’ve eaten or not.

· Never hide or disguise foods.

· Mealtimes should be a shared social experience, try to eat together.

If you have concerns about what your child is eating or that you could have more than just a ‘picky eater’ then please contact us directly. We would be happy to discuss your concerns and put a plan into action with you.

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