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The Feeding Therapist: The Missing Link to Atypical Feeding Development

As I start my private practice journey, I am reminded about the lack of awareness and timely referrals for feeding therapy when an infant or child is demonstrating feeding difficulties that are impacting their nutritional intake. Whether it be due to a congenital disorder, struggles with a tongue tie as an infant, reflux, difficulty transitioning or consuming various textures, or transitioning from a feeding tube, many times when parents are referred to a feeding therapist or discover feeding therapy in an internet search, they are desperate for someone to help their child. The difficulties in feeding development have reached a point of impacting nutritional intake and growth.

Why are we waiting to make the referrals or not making the referrals at all?

Why are parents having to search the internet for help and answers and being left to self-refer?

Something I always hear from parents with children in feeding therapy is, “I had no idea feeding was so involved. “That is true for most people, until they encounter feeding issues within their family. What most people don’t realize is that these issues often stem from infancy. At the first sign of feeding struggles, a referral for feeding therapy can greatly decrease the impact the issue may have on aversion, sensorimotor development, and transitioning to age-appropriate foods. The longer the wait, the bigger the snowball. Do not hesitate to reach out to feeding professionals when things aren’t going as they should.

What does a feeding therapist do?

When a family is referred for feeding therapy, an oral sensorimotor evaluation is conducted. This determines if the child has any structural impairments, atypical patterns, or range of motion impairment. The lips, jaw, tongue, cheeks, and palate are assessed. Structural impairment often leads to atypical oral patterns that can cause difficulty with intake or progression towards age-appropriate foods. The therapist will determine goals and implement strategies in therapy for the family to carryover at home.

Up next is the feeding assessment. Depending on the child’s age, the therapist will observe the child consuming a variety or textures when it comes to food and liquid. They will provide compensatory strategies if a child is struggling and assess the child’s reaction to the change. The therapist may trial different positions, various temperatures, and/or utilize sensory/oral tools and assess the response to the various interventions. These assessments provided the therapist and family with direction to take when it comes to strategies and interventions for successful nutritional intake.

When it comes to therapy, you can expect that the therapist will provide you with guidance and direction each session, based on the outcome of therapy interventions and the progress of the child. This will allow you to incorporate strategies and techniques into your daily life and ensure progress is consistent and seen in day-to-day meals, not just during your therapy session. Due to the importance of the caregiver role when it comes to feeding, it is crucial that they be present and eventually begin to participate in the therapy sessions themselves.

If you are reading this due to concerns about your own child, place a call to your local feeding therapist. If you don’t know where to start ask your pediatrician for a referral, ask a local mom’s group for recommendations from anyone who has experienced similar struggles, or do a quick internet search to find a provider with good reviews in your area.

When you find a good therapist, make your pediatrician aware of the professional so that they can refer other families to a trusted professional.

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