Solving the Puzzle of Sensory Feeding Issues

We love to eat… and we love to bring the joy of healthy food & family mealtime into the homes of children we work with. But we know feeding your little ones may not always be a piece of cake, no pun intended. We know how tiring and frustrating it could be at times.  Some parents refer to their children as fussy eaters, so we’re here to tell you a little about what might really be going on.

When we eat, we do so with all of our 5 senses. Imagine you’re a 3-year-old. Mommy is cooking food and you’re SMELLING it from the kitchen – Hmmmm do I smell fish for dinner??  Then, Mommy asks you to come to the kitchen table, puts on your bib, and puts the plate in front of you – now you’re SEEING it. Some sights such as color, length, and shape might be more or less appetizing to certain children. Then, Mommy asks you to take a bite (but you really don’t want to).

You start by TOUCHING it first, but it may feel too hard or too soft. Finally, you put it into your mouth and you’re TASTING it – boy was that too sweet…WOAH sensory overload! And then you take a bite and you’re HEARING it – that sounded way too crunch, crunch, crunchy (or maybe not enough crunch)!  What is mommy thinking??  After 45 minutes, mealtime is still not finished…

The point is, some children can be “hypersensitive eaters” and some can be “hyposensitive eaters”…

Hypersensitive = extremely sensitive, prefers pureed or soft foods, prefers bland food with minimal texture, avoids crunchy and chewy foods, does not like their teeth brushed, etc.

Hyposensitive = decreased sensitivity, craves feedback for his/her mouth; may pocket or hold food in the mouth because of decreased sensation, prefers crunchy and flavorful foods (We must say we belong in this category – the spicier the better!)

Try conducting your own experiment – place different types of food in front of your child and see what textures and tastes they are drawn too. As speech language pathologists, when we walk into a home to conduct a feeding evaluation, the first thing we ask a parent is, “What does your child like to eat and what will they refuse?”

One particular parent provided a list of foods that her child prefers, such as crunchy toast, spicy chicken, crackers, cookies, crunchy bacon, etc. She then told me her son will avoid yogurt, puddings, jarred baby food, etc.  I explained to mom, “You have a hyposensitive eater!” She looked at me puzzled, but when I described what a hyposensitive eater is, she said, “You just described my son!”

Her following question was, “What do I do?” I explained that we don’t expect our feeding clients to jump from purees to crunchy foods and vice verse overnight – it’s a process of baby steps. Once you figure out what type of eater your child is, it’s time to begin experimenting with foods that your child won’t normally tolerate.

Our advice is to always HAVE FUN WITH FOOD. Allow your child to explore and get messy with her food! Limit meal options to 3 – don’t bend over backwards to create 10 options! Your meal options should include 2 staple foods, or foods your child will eat, and 1 new food item to explore.

Once your child is ready to explore new foods, link the food with a subtle addition. For example, if your child loves crunchy toast, slowly add butter to the toast, then maybe some cheese, followed by vegetable or egg to ultimately lead to a sandwich. This can take weeks  – and perhaps even months – to achieve. So parents, be patient and don’t worry now that you have a better understanding of the type of eater you’re feeding!!

Lastly, absolutely NO FORCED FEEDING. We advise parents to never force feed new foods. Forced feeding can create a negative association to mealtimes, and possibly stress and fussing upon seeing a spoon, when placing a bib around the neck, or even when viewing the highchair.

It is also important to consider the possibility of other underlying issues affecting feeding such as allergies, reflux, or physiological issues. The best way to find out is to get help from a speech language pathologist, feeding specialist, or a gastroenterologist (GI).

Gift of Gab Resources 1-855-SPEAK-HELP are:

Debbie Shiwbalak, M.A., CCC-SLP [email protected]

Alpin Gundem, M.A., CCC-SLP [email protected]

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Debbie Shiwbalak, M.A., CCC-SLP, has a Baccalaureate of Arts in Speech Pathology and is a graduate of Long Island University-CW Post Campus, where she received a Master of Arts in Speech Pathology in 2001. She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) and is licensed by the state of New York to practice speech-language pathology. Debbie has 13 years experience as a speech pathologist in the New York City area.

Alpin Rezvani, M.A., CCC-SLP, graduated from New York University with a Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology.  She holds a Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech, Language, and Hearing Association (ASHA) and has New York licensure in Speech-Language Pathology.  She has 7 years of experience as a speech pathologist in the New York City area and was an adjunct instructor at New York University.  She co-authored two chapters of “Cutting Edge Therapies for Autism”.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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