For our Feeding Team Kids: What does feeding therapy mean and what should a parent expect?
Many of our feeding team patients benefit from out-patient feeding therapy to work on improving oral motor skills, swallowing, and feeding skills such as acceptance of age appropriate size portions and a variety of foods from all of the food groups. Some families prefer to see a local therapist if the distance to UNC or our Raleigh based clinic is too far. However, if Raleigh or Chapel Hill is a close option, your feeding team speech pathologist or another UNC therapist may provide therapy. We provide feeding therapy using oral motor therapy to improve oral skills and behavioral therapy to improve feeding. We typically recommend 2 sessions per months although some children benefit from weekly therapy while others do well with once per month.
The first thing to expect is that your child will be fed during feeding therapy. Therefore, parents should plan on bringing food to each therapy session. In order to improve feeding behavior and skill, the child must practice eating and the parent must practice feeding. In the same way that a runner does not become a better runner by doing leg exercises alone, rather they must actually run to become a better runner. The way a child moves their mouth can directly impact what food they accept and how long meals last.
During the feeding session, the therapist may target a number of different feeding skills such as :
- oral motor skills for bottle or cup drinking, for eating food off of a spoon or chewing
- swallowing strategies to reduce aspiration or choking.
- feeding techniques to improve meal time behavior, acceptance of foods and liquids, and efficiency of eating
- positioning for feeding
- picking appropriate utensils including bottles/nipples, cups, and spoons.
- improving tolerance of textures.
- oral motor stretching or strengthening.
The Benefit of Practice
The therapist will recommend a feeding plan for home and practice with specific feeding techniques as part of a home therapy program. any new skill needs practice , this is so your child can learn more quickly.
The second thing to expect in feeding therapy is that you will be involved. Our job is to help you learn to successfully feed your child. It doesn’t matter if the therapist can feed your child, what is important is that you, can feed your child and use the strategies used in therapy for home feeding practice. Once a week feeding with a therapist is not enough to effectively address feeding issues, home carry over and parental involvement is the key to success and change. The therapist will coach parents to correctly implement the strategies identified in therapy in order for parents to confidently implement the strategies at on home.
Behavioral Feeding Techniques
The third thing to expect in a therapy session is the use of books, singing, cheering, toys, games and electronics. A child is in feeding therapy because feeding has been a struggle. If needed, therapists will use toys and games to provide distraction, reward, and a little bit of fun into a difficult and sometimes stressful task. Therapists know that children learn through play and will incorporate the use of a variety of these techniques in feeding therapy. Feeding therapy is not always easy and not always fun, it is hard work, but we do believe in positive reinforcement, praise, and play. This reinforcement is highly encouraged for parents to use at home as well.
Therapy Plans are unique to the child
The fourth thing to expect in feeding therapy is your child’s feeding therapy may be different from a parent’s expectations or the therapy that a friend’s child is getting. Every therapy session and feeding plan is based on the child’s specific needs and no two therapy plans are alike. If the therapist believes that a child will benefit from a sensory based therapeutic approach, these will be incorporated into therapy or the child may be referred to an occupational therapist. If the therapist believes that motor/body therapy is necessary, the child might be referred to a physical therapist. If significant behavior or anxiety is an issue, the therapist may refer the child to a behavioral psychologist. In some cases, a child may need speech, occupational, physical and behavior therapy. Some of our feeding team patients attend intensive feeding programs. However, in many cases, speech therapy is enough. Your therapist will work with you and your child to determine what is best plan for your child’s therapy.
We are here for you!
The most important thing to know about feeding therapy is that your therapist is a resource for you and your family. Your therapist will educate, support, and cheer your family on in any way possible to help your child overcome feeding obstacles and thrive.