Sensory Feeding Difficulties

Many children treated in OT for sensory integration disorders experience difficulties with feeding. Sensory issues are often overlooked, or misinterpreted as behavioural problems.

Here at OT4KIDS we can assess the possible different causes of food refusal and food selectivity, to try and ensure a proper understanding of the feeding problem. We will consider sensory, motor, psychological and medical issues that may all coexist and lead to feeding problems.

By understanding the underlying issues causing feeding difficulties, the correct treatment approach which most suits your child / young person can be chosen and they can be referred to the professional who can best meet their needs.

If the child / young person’s feeding difficulties are found to be sensory based, then we can help them through a sensory integration approach. We can address sensory issues related to feeding in children with a variety of diagnoses and ages – from cerebral palsy to subtle developmental issues and from 6 months through to older children / young people.

What are feeding and swallowing disorders?

Feeding disorders include problems gathering food and getting ready to suck, chew, or swallow it. For example, a child who cannot pick up food and get it to her mouth or cannot completely close her lips to keep food from falling out of her mouth may have a feeding disorder.

Swallowing disorders, also called dysphasia, can occur at different stages in the swallowing process:

  • Oral phase – sucking, chewing, and moving food or liquid into the throat
  • Pharyngeal phase – starting the swallow, squeezing food down the throat, and closing off the airway to prevent food or liquid from entering the airway (aspiration) or to prevent choking
  • Oesophageal phase – relaxing and tightening the openings at the top and bottom of the feeding tube in the throat (oesophagus) and squeezing food through the oesophagus into the stomach

What are some signs or symptoms of feeding and swallowing disorders in children?

Children with feeding and swallowing problems have a wide variety of symptoms. Not all signs and symptoms are present in every child.

The following are signs and symptoms of feeding and swallowing problems in very young children:

  • arching or stiffening of the body during feeding
  • irritability or lack of alertness during feeding
  • refusing food or liquid
  • failure to accept different textures of food (e.g., only pureed foods or crunchy cereals)
  • long feeding times (e.g., more than 30 minutes)
  • difficulty chewing
  • difficulty breast feeding
  • coughing or gagging during meals
  • excessive drooling or food/liquid coming out of the mouth or nose
  • difficulty coordinating breathing with eating and drinking
  • increased stuffiness during meals
  • gurgly, hoarse, or breathy voice quality
  • frequent spitting up or vomiting
  • recurring pneumonia or respiratory infections
  • less than normal weight gain or growth