Mealtime for children with sensory processing difficulties can become extremely stressful. There are unforeseen challenges that occur with almost every meal and that can be difficult for a parent to control. Here are some challenges and solutions to make mealtime go smoother:
1. Sensory Issues:
Challenge- Often, children with sensory-based feeding issues have aversion to specific textures, temperatures, and taste which causes frustration. Children usually develop a small list of foods they will tolerate which could cause a lack of a nutritional diet.
The Solution- To help a child broaden their diet, begin to slowly change their favorite foods. For example, if they love elbow macaroni and only eat that shape, put in 4 or 5 pieces of a different shape. Another tip is to let the child pick foods at the grocery store and help prepare the meal so that is exposes them to a variety of textures and smells.
2. Oral-motor Issues:
Challenge- Oral-motor feeding difficulties can be because of tone and strength issues. Children need to have good gross-motor coordination and movement before they achieve improved oral-motor skills. However, a way to achieve good oral input is to take care of any sensory issues.
The Solution- There are oral-motor exercise that increase jaw, tongue, and lip strength. Parents who are concerned with oral-motor issues should contact their pediatrician, occupational therapist, or speech therapist for strategies.
3. Behavioral Issues:
Challenge- Children tend to act out during mealtime. This could be because they want attention from Mom and Dad, or they feel like eating is one of only a few things that they can control.
The Solution- Positive reinforcement could be “If you eat this piece of chicken then you can watch 5 minutes of TV” or you could use the extinction/planned ignoring strategy which could be “Mom doesn’t hear whining, she only hears big boy words”
Here are some general strategies for children with feeding issues:
Encourage the child to play with their food if they are weary of certain textures. Get messy!
Let your child help prepare the meal
Encourage your child to eat with friends at school so that they can exposed to more foods
Incorporate small amounts of new food on their plate along with their preferred foods
If you feel like you've tried everything with your child, and you are still having difficulties with eating at home, please do not hesitate to reach out to All Care for help! Many of our speech and occupational therapists are trained in treating feeding difficulties in children, and we'd love to help reduce your family's meal time stress!
References: Mealtimes: Five Challenges and Solutions for Feeding Your Child with Special Needs - Friendship Circle - Special Needs Blog. (2013, November 15). Retrieved from http://www.friendshipcircle.org/blog/2012/04/17/mealtimes-five-challenges-and-solutions-for-feeding-your-child-with-special-needs/