Dinner time with young children can be a challenge for all parents, especially those with children with special needs.
Feeding children with sensory-processing impairments or sensitivities can be a particularly daunting task for their parents, but there are some tips that can help.
In order to find a solution to your child's feeding issues, we must first identify the main component that is challenging their ability to eat. According to some experts, these three components listed below can result in poor eating habits in children with special needs. Here's a look at those components and how to overcome them.
Sensory-based issues are the most common underlying factors in most feeding difficulties with children.
Food texture, temperature, and taste can all be unappealing to kids, which may cause them to become frustrated. As a result, kids tend to only want to eat foods they are familiar with—severely limiting their nutrition intake.
As a solution, experts advise parents to slowly begin to alter their child's favorite foods. Take for example, mac and cheese, a common favorite among children.
Kids with sensory-based impairments may only like a certain type of macaroni, like the shell-shaped kind commonly known as shells and cheese.
To add subtle changes to the macaroni, toss in a few pieces of different shaped macaroni like elbow mac or wheel-shaped pasta.
Next time, add a few more different shaped pieces or even a little food coloring. By adding subtle, “quiet” changes to their food, your child will be less likely to become anxious over the change.
You can also allow your child to help select food at the grocery store and help you prepare meals, which exposes them to the varieties of textures, smells, and tastes of food.
These type of feeding problems are typically caused by tone and strength issues.
The only solution to these type of issues is by teaching and having your child practice oral-motor exercises that help to strengthen the jaw, tongue, and lips.
Of course, many children with oral-motor issues also have sensory-sensitivities, which must be addressed first.
Parents are encouraged to work together with their child's pediatrician, OT, or speech therapist to develop a plan to help their child develop gross-motor skills.
Many kids use bad behavior to get their parent's attention and that includes meal-time behavior.
The solution? Positive reinforcement ('If you eat your spaghetti, you can play your favorite game for 15 minutes afterwards') and planned ignoring('Mommy and Daddy don't listen to whining fits, we only respond to good behavior.')
You may have to gradually work through the steps of eating (touching, taking a bite, keeping a bite in the mouth, swallowing it, then slowly taking bigger bites), but if you progress at your child's own pace and display positive reinforcement when they take the next step, eventually he or she will begin to eat better.
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