Feeding and eating are crucial skills that children typically develop in childhood. Eating has physical and social importance in most households and is considered a meaningful activity for some families. Feeding or eating disruptions can have significant effects on both the physical and psychological health of children. Disorders of feeding and eating are typically defined as disorders that impede a child's ability to ingest food or liquid. Occupational therapists consider eating to be an activity of daily living because it is essential for health and well-being.
Difficulties with feeding are found in both children with and without development challenges. There are many different causes of feeding disorders. For example, some children have no difficulties with swallowing mechanics, while other children have notable neuromotor disorders that impede feeding. There are many different types of feed disorders and pediatric populations at risk, including children with cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, Down syndrome, spina bifida, short bowel syndrome, cleft lip and/or cleft palate, and many more.
Feeding and eating take place within all kinds of contexts. For example, contextual factors that may affect eating include a very chaotic environment, where meals are not offered regularly or are inappropriate. Aspects of the physical environment that are important to consider are:
-Where does the child usually eat?
-How a child's posture affects their ability to eat?
-Other sensory factors that may influence eating, such as television.
-Who is eating with the child?
General Tips for Home
-make feeding fun and enjoyable experience for children
-try to involve your child as much as possible during mealtime
-attempt to maintain a routine schedule
-consider other things in your environment that may be affecting a child's eating
-include at least one item of food that the child enjoys eating
Pediatric occupational therapists who are well-trained in feeding can help with assessing and treating feeding and eating challenges. Occupational therapists can help monitor and adapt treatment plans specific to a child's needs. Recommending assistive devices, resources and offering education and training to parents can help maximize therapeutic outcomes.
To connect with an occupational therapist in your area, visit your provincial College of Occupational Therapists using the 'Colleges' link provided on our website.