My approach to feeding therapy: Feel Well, Build Confidence, Have Fun!
As a speech-language pathologist, I have specialized in pediatric feeding therapy for ten years. In those years, I have sought out and trained in a variety of different approaches to feeding therapy and learned from the country’s top experts (e.g., Marsha Dunn Klein, Debra Beckman, Catherine Shaker, Diane Bahr, etc.). There is no one approach to therapy that works for every child or every family. I carefully select the parts of each approach that fits best with every child I see, creating an individualized therapy plan for each family based on their unique needs and circumstances.
Feel well! Too often, when a child starts feeding therapy, the therapist, jumps straight into poking around in a child’s mouth without first considering the cardinal rule to eating, which is: to eat well; first, the child must feel well. Think about the last time you had horrible heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, or other illness. I’m guessing while you were sick you didn’t eat very much because you didn’t feel well. I complete a comprehensive assessment and work closely with your child’s pediatrician and care team. We want to ensure that there are no underlying causes of feeding delays such as acid reflux, food allergies, chronic constipation, tongue-tie, oral-motor weakness, etc.) are stopping the child from feeling well and enjoying eating.
Build confidence! Now that the child feels well, we can start building confidence and trust. Not only in the child but also in you, the parent. We start with fun sensory experiences that the child enjoys and is good at, teaching them that new experiences (including new foods) don’t have to be scary and that they have the skills they need to be successful eaters. As parents, we aren’t given training in how to help our children eat, which leaves us with a lot of questions: “What should I do when she gags on new foods?” “What should I do if he cries in his high chair?” “What should I do if she refuses all her dinner?” When our kids struggle to eat and when every meal is a battle, we start to lose our confidence. It may be easier to give in, chicken nuggets again. We may even feel like we’ve failed as parents. For me, feeding therapy is a family affair. I try to clarify feeding for you, the parent, by teaching how the oral-motor and sensory systems can impact feeding, what you can do to help, and give you back your confidence too!
Have fun! It may seem impossible now, but sharing a meal with your child can be fun! Kids learn better when they are having fun, and so I use fun, silliness, and laughter to get kids eating and enjoying food!