By Chandler Clingan, OTR/L
Most people cannot recall the first bite they ever took. Eating for the general population is habitual and is a naturally occurring task we perform on a daily basis. But for some infants, children, and even adults, eating is one of the most stressful, frightening or painful tasks to complete in their day. When we eat, most people do not consider they are using multiple sensory systems to perform that task. Take a cookie for instance – most people prefer chewy or crunchy cookies, but don’t really think about the cookie more than that. To someone with sensory based challenges, they may be offered a cookie and instantly want to know if the cookie is soft, rough or smooth; how will that feel going down my throat? How much cinnamon was used? Does it crunch too loud in my ear when I bite down? Does the cookie have chunks in it? Is the cookie hot or cold? Is the cookie round or in a design shape? Is this cookie even safe to eat? Oftentimes, individuals with eating disorders are plagued by these thoughts without even being conscious of what is happening.
Many children are considered to be “picky eaters,” but in reality, they have developed a serious eating problem. Problem eaters rarely stray away from their foods they consider “safe.” Such as their well-known McDonald’s french fries or chicken nuggets. This restricted diet can eventually lead to significant nutritional and developmental challenges. Problem eaters can emerge in any population, but a significant portion of the population of “problem eaters” are in the populations that have developmental disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and various other conditions. Problem eating can develop because of pain with eating, sensory processing difficulties, deficits in oral motor and swallowing skills and more.
These challenges can be difficult and scary to endure alone. With a diverse set of skills, your therapists at Kids Unlimited Learning Academy and Miracle Kids Success Academy have skilled occupational, speech, and physical therapists as well as nurses and psychologists available to assist you through this process. Our skilled staff is trained in multiple areas such as S.O.S Feeding (Sequential Oral Sensory) and Food Chaining courses that have equipped our therapists to address feeding concerns using a sequential, oral, and sensory approach developed by Dr. Kay Toomey. Food chaining feeding therapy is also another strategy used by our therapists that enable the child to try new foods that are similar to the foods they currently enjoy and are willing to eat. These strategies and techniques taught during therapy are easily transferred to your dinner table. Our overall long-term goal is to increase your child’s food repertoire and introduce a greater variety in the foods that they will eat on daily basis. We achieve this through our short-term goals and by teaching the child strategies for eating all of the new and eclectic foods they encounter as they continue to grow older and develop.
For many individuals, eating can be a daunting task, but Kids Unlimited and Miracle Kids actively work to help families see that there is hope and fight to overcome these challenges. If you or someone you know struggles with an eating disorder of any kind, please check out these websites and resources listed below. Eating doesn’t have to be difficult and through teamwork we will empower every child to succeed.