How Can Occupational Therapy Help With Feeding Disorders In Children?

How Can Occupational Therapy Help With Feeding Disorders In Children? | New Horizons Wellness Services Speech Therapy Clinic Pediatric Therapy Adult Therapy Portland Tigard Oregon

Most kids are messy eaters at first.

But some are more so than others.

If your child has trouble eating, it might feel stressful as a parent to see them struggle.

But you’re not alone.

If your child has a feeding disorder, we’re here to help.

Here at New Horizons Wellness Services, a multidisciplinary therapy clinic in Tigard Oregon, we offer pediatric occupational therapy for kids with feeding disorders.

Today, we’ll take a closer look at feeding disorders – what they are, what causes them, and how occupational therapy can help.

What Are Feeding Disorders?

“Feeding” is a complicated process that many adults tend to take for granted.

But there’s much more to it than many people think.

In fact, feeding can be broken up into several phases.

A feeding disorder can occur at any point in this process.

Let’s take a look below.

Voluntary Oral Preparatory Phase

In the voluntary oral preparatory phase, your child puts food in their mouth.

Then, they use their lips, tongue, and teeth together to prepare the food in their mouth to be swallowed.

As they chew their food, it mixes with saliva, which becomes easier to swallow.

This mix of food and saliva is called a “bolus”.

It’s called a “voluntary” phase, because your child does this consciously.

Other parts of this process are involuntary, which you’ll see shortly.

It’s worth noting that the voluntary oral preparatory phase develops as your child gets older.

Infants don’t have this phase – their eating habits are built around the sucking primitive reflex they’re born with.

Voluntary Oral Transit Phase

Once the food in your child’s mouth has been properly prepared for swallowing, the voluntary oral phase begins.

During this phase, your child moves their bolus toward their esophagus so they can swallow it.

Involuntary Pharyngeal Phase

During this phase, your child begins to swallow.

It happens very quickly, in less than a second.

Starting to swallow is a voluntary action, but everything that happens after is involuntary.

As your child’s food moves through their pharynx, it closes off their larynx and trachea.

This protects them from having food or drink enter their airway.

Involuntary Esophageal Phase

During the esophageal phase, your child’s food moves down their esophagus into their stomach.

Feeding Disorder Symptoms

If your child has a feeding disorder, they may:

  • Eat only certain foods
  • Refuse to eat or drink
  • Be visibly uncomfortable or even cry while eating
  • Have difficulty chewing their food
  • Vomit frequently
  • Cough or gag while eating
  • Frequently drool
  • Have liquid leak from their nose while drinking
  • Keep food in their mouth instead of swallowing it
  • Have trouble breathing while they eat
  • Take a long time to eat
  • Make gurgling sounds while feeding
  • Have a hoarse or breathy voice after feeding
  • Have trouble latching while breastfeeding

Health Risks From Pediatric Feeding Disorders

Because feeding is such an integral part of childhood development, a feeding disorder can lead to a variety of health concerns.

These include:

Causes Of Feeding Disorders

If your child has a feeding disorder, it can be caused by a number of different conditions.

These include:

Certain medications can suppress appetite as well.

How Can An Occupational Therapist Help?

If your child has a feeding disorder, a pediatric occupational therapist can help.

Occupational therapists can assess and work with a variety of areas that can impact feeding skills.

These include:

RELATED: Helpful Tips For Minimizing Sensory Overload

Let’s take a closer look at some of the therapeutic techniques that might be included in your child’s treatment plan.

How Can An Occupational Therapist Help? | New Horizons Wellness Services Speech Therapy Clinic Pediatric Therapy Adult Therapy Portland Tigard Oregon

1. Dietary Modifications

If your child is highly particular about the food they eat, at first, it may seem like they’re just a “picky eater,” but often there’s more to it than that.

If your child has sensory processing issues, it can create a genuine fear of unfamiliar foods.

This can lead to poor nutrition, and all the health concerns that come with it.

Their particularity can be related to the sensory components of foods, such as texture, viscosity, temperature, smell, sound, look or flavor.

It can also be related to the other sensory components of the meal such as utensils used and the eating environment.

Your child’s occupational therapist can work with you to find out what type of foods your child likes, and create a structured plan to expand the number and type of tolerated foods.

2. Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration is a therapeutic modality geared toward helping children manage sensory processing disorder.

While most of us will feel mild distaste when eating a food we don’t like, kids with sensory processing disorder can feel serious distress and even physical pain.

This is where sensory integration can help.

The approach involves gradually exposing your child to their sensory triggers.

If your child has issues with certain tastes, smells, or textures, this approach can help.

It’s gentle and structured, and allows your child’s brain to build techniques to adapt.

3. Eating Posture Modification

Just like any motor skills development, posture makes a big difference in the development of your child’s eating skills.

Proper posture while eating can help protect your child’s airways and prevent choking.

Therefore, changing your child’s posture while eating can help them better manage their symptoms.

Your pediatric OT may recommend a variety of different approaches to help your child improve their eating posture.

This can include using foot rests to keep your child’s knees bent at a 90 degree ankle.

It can also include back or side supports to keep their hips and back properly aligned.

4. The SOS Approach To Feeding

SOS stands for sequential oral sensory.

It’s an approach our therapy team uses to help children with feeding disorders.

The SOS approach recognizes the complexity of eating, an activity so many of us take for granted.

If your child has a feeding issue, it can be related to a variety of different concerns, as we mentioned earlier.

As a result, taking a holistic approach is important.

This approach works by addressing oral motor skills deficits as well as sensory processing concerns.

It’s done gradually, gently, one step at a time.

The process includes:

  1. Getting used to how food looks
  2. Interacting with food without eating it (eg with a fork or spoon)
  3. Smelling food and processing it
  4. Touching food and processing it
  5. Tasting food and processing it
  6. Fully eating, chewing, and swallowing food

Additionally, your child’s occupational therapist will provide you and your family with plenty of parent resources to help you better understand your child’s difficulties and specific needs.

Book Your Appointment With New Horizons Wellness Services Today

If you suspect your child has a feeding disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out to New Horizons Wellness Services.

Early intervention can make all the difference.

Our expert occupational therapist can help you and your child manage their symptoms.

Book your appointment with New Horizons Wellness Services to help your child develop their feeding skills today.

Yours in Health,

New Horizons Wellness Services
13333 SW 68th Pkwy,
Tigard, OR 97223


New Horizons Wellness Services provides a true multidisciplinary approach to mental & physical health treatments for children, adults and families.