Treatment for Pediatric Feeding Disorder

Treatment for Pediatric Feeding Disorder

When you think about speech therapists, you probably associate them with speech-related issues. However, it may surprise you to learn that speech-language pathologists also provide treatment for to help kids with with limited food repertoire.
Perhaps you’ve been informed that your child likely has a feeding disorder, or you suspect they have difficulties with eating and drinking. Are they a picky eater, or could they benefit from therapy? This article aims to provide parents with essential information about feeding therapy, including the role of online therapy in treating feeding issues in children.

What is pediatric feeding therapy?

Pediatric feeding therapy focuses on assisting children who experience challenges with the physical aspects of eating and/or swallowing. It aims to make mealtimes easier and more enjoyable for children.

Who delivers feeding therapy for children?

Feeding therapy for children is conducted by a specialized speech-language pathologist, commonly known as a speech therapist. These professionals help children enhance their ability to eat safely and expand their diet to include as many foods and liquids as possible.

What constitutes a pediatric feeding disorder?

To qualify for feeding therapy, a child must display signs of a feeding disorder. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), pediatric feeding disorders encompass difficulties with sucking, using a spoon, chewing, or drinking from a cup. Swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, refer to challenges in moving food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach through the throat or esophagus. Pediatric feeding disorder and swallowing disorders are often associated with other medical conditions but can also arise without a known cause. These disorders can lead to health, learning, and social issues.

How can I determine if my child needs feeding therapy?

What signs indicate that a child has a feeding disorder? Look for the following signs or symptoms of pediatric feeding disorder :
– Eating less food than expected for their age
– Consuming a limited variety of foods compared to what is typical for their age
– Displaying disruptive or inappropriate behaviors during mealtimes
– Struggling to feed themselves appropriately for their age
– Having difficulty using utensils or devices like cups or spoons independently during meals
– Slow physical growth or inadequate weight gain
– For children at risk of choking or aspiration (food or liquid entering the airway), specific signs and symptoms of aspiration to watch for include:
  – Coughing while eating or drinking
  – Reddening of the eyes while eating or drinking
  – Teary eyes while eating or drinking
  – Gurgly or wet-sounding voice during or after eating/drinking
  – Gagging
  – Choking while eating or drinking
Children experiencing any of these symptoms, whether in infancy or later childhood, may have a feeding or swallowing disorder and should undergo evaluation by a speech therapist.

What occurs during childhood feeding therapy?

The objective of feeding therapy is to enhance a child’s ability to eat and drink a wide variety of foods and liquids safely.
If concerns regarding feeding safety arise, it becomes the primary focus of feeding therapy. But what does safety entail when it comes to eating? Feeding safety revolves around protecting the airway. The proximity of the esophagus to the airway means that food entering the airway instead of the esophagus can lead to choking or aspiration.
Some children may have muscle weakness or oral-motor weakness and coordination issues, which increase their risk of feeding safety problems and complications.
Feeding therapy may involve oral-motor exercises aimed at improving a child’s strength and coordination.
For children experiencing these difficulties, therapy concentrates on identifying foods and liquids they can safely consume. In some cases, children are unable to eat safely through their mouth at all and may require alternative forms of nutrition, such as a g-tube.
Feeding therapy may involve oral-motor exercises to enhance a child’s strength and coordination, promoting safe eating. For instance, a child with weak jaw muscles may need to strengthen them in order to chew effectively.

Therapy for addressing pediatric feeding disorder.

Feeding therapy for children who consume insufficient food or lack variety focuses on increasing the volume and diversity of their diet. These challenges may arise from physical difficulties with eating and swallowing, but sensory issues or behavioral responses can also contribute. This goes beyond being simply a “picky eater.” For example, some children may have negative reactions to mixed textures like soup, while others may dislike crunchy textures such as crackers. These are known as sensory aversions.
The speech therapist assists the child in reducing sensory aversions and negative responses to foods. Some approaches include:
– Encouraging play with non-preferred foods
– Implementing food chaining, which involves introducing new foods that resemble ones the child already enjoys
– Facilitating child-led interactions with food
For example, engaging in play with food can help the child become more comfortable with interacting with it before attempting to eat it. The speech therapist may guide the child through gradual steps, such as smelling, touching, kissing, and then licking the food item, while observing their reactions to determine when they are ready to try eating it.
The speech therapist may also help the child increase their food intake volume by offering structured meals. During these meals, the child is prompted to take bites while playing a game or enjoying a highly preferred food.

What types of feeding therapy can be conducted online?

Certain forms of therapy for pediatric feeding disorder can be conducted through teletherapy, but not all. The decision should be made in consultation with the child’s pediatrician and speech therapist. In some cases, the speech therapist may need to be physically present to observe the child’s oral motor skills and swallowing abilities when working with specific foods and liquids.
Children who cannot eat safely by mouth due to potential safety concerns may not be suitable candidates for teletherapy. The determination depends on their current condition, goals, and the caregiver’s comfort level in acting as a facilitator. This decision should be made by the speech therapist and doctor.
Children without known airway safety concerns are more likely to receive teletherapy. However, planning and communication between the speech therapist and the parent or caregiver are necessary. The speech therapist will request specific foods to be brought to the session and guide the child through various exercises using each food item.
Regardless of the therapy goals or whether it is conducted online or in-person, it is crucial for the parent or caregiver to actively participate. This ensures that the caregiver learns how to support the child’s progress at home, aligning with what the child is learning in therapy.

Therapy Works Together – Online Speech Therapy for Children and Adults


We care about every child and adult achieving their speech, language and communication goals. You can start speech therapy online now with a certified speech language therapist. We’ll discuss your personal needs, develop an individualized treatment plan, and schedule affordable online therapy sessions online at your convenience.

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