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Common Feeding Disorders



What are feeding disorders?

Feeding disorders can be due to various reasons including difficulties with oral motor function, sensory issues, or behavioral issues. When a child has a feeding disorder they may not eat or drink enough food or liquid, or tolerate a broad enough variety of food making it difficult to grow and meet their nutritional needs. 


Common feeding disorder

Oral motor function refers to the movements, coordination, and strength of the mouth including the tongue, lips, cheeks, and jaw. All of this is required for a child to safely eat and perform the tasks of suckling, chewing, licking, and swallowing. Dysfunctions with oral motor function may present as difficulty using a straw, refusal to eat, preference for soft foods, food falling out of the mouth, and excessive drooling. 


Sensory issues impact how a child experiences different foods and mealtimes and can lead to picky eating or even feeding delays. It is important to remember that all the senses come into play such as texture, smell, appearance, and temperature of the food. A child could be hypersensitive, meaning they may avoid touching or tasting the food, gag, or have other strong reactions. A child can also be hyposensitive, meaning there is a lack of awareness orally so they may pocket their food in their cheeks or drool unknowingly. 


Behavioral issues can present as a child refusing to eat their food or they may have food selectivity. It is important to remember that a child’s behavior is a form of communication. Try to figure out why they are having this behavior. Is the child anxious for new food? Do they have sensory issues as mentioned above? If you feel your child’s feeding difficulty is due to behavior, try to make eating a positive experience! Allow them to play in the food so it becomes more engaging and fun. 


If you believe your child is experiencing any of these issues regarding feeding, reach out to an occupational therapist (OT) to assist you and your child in promoting safe eating. An OT can provide skilled services that may include oral exams, exercises, equipment, schedules, routines, education, and so much more. 


Resource:

O’Brien, J. C., & Kuhaneck, H. (2020). Case-Smith’s occupational therapy for children and adolescents (8th ed.).

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