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Speech and Language Therapy

Feeding, Oral Motor, & Sensory Issues

What Is A Feeding Disorder?

A child with a feeding disorder does not consume enough food (or liquid or a broad enough variety of food) to gain weight and grow normally. A child with a feeding disorder, may only eat a few foods, completely avoiding entire foodgroups, textures or liquids necessary for proper development. As a result, children diagnosed with feeding disorders are at greater risk for compromised physical and cognitive development. Children with feeding disorders may also develop slower, experience behavioral problems and even fail to thrive.

Are there different types of feeding disorders?

There are many different types of feeding disorders, and they can take on one or more of the following forms:

  • Trouble accepting and swallowing different food textures
  • Throwing tantrums at mealtimes
  • Refusing to eat certain food groups
  • Refusing to eat any solids or liquids
  • Choking, gagging or vomiting when eating
  • Oral motor and sensory problems
  • Gastrostomy (g-tube) or naso-gastric (ng-tube) dependence

What are some signs or symptoms of a feeding disorder?

Children with feeding 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 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

What Are Oral Motor Skills?

Oral-motor skills involve the movements of the lips, jaw, tongue, and cheeks. These muscles are important for eating, drinking and speech. Examples of oral-motor activities including drinking from a straw, chewing, and blowing a toy horn. Children who struggle in this area may have problems tolerating different food textures, drinking from a cup, having their teeth brushed, and may overstuff their mouth with food.

Sensory Modulation Disorder

A problem in regulating responses to sensory inputs resulting in withdrawal or strong negative responses to sensations that don not usually bother others. Problems are often seen in fluctuating emotions that are made worse by stress, and vary with the situation. Common signs include:

  • Easily distracted by noises
  • Overly sensitive to sounds
  • Dislikes nail/ hair cutting
  • Dislikes clothing of certain textures/ fits/ or styles
  • Upset about seams in socks
  • Difficult time falling or staying asleep
  • Reacts defensively to tastes/ textures of food
  • Easily distracted by visual stimuli

Sensory Discrimination Disorder

A problem in recognizing/ interpreting differences or similarities in qualities of stimuli. It is commonly seen with problems in processing body sensations from touch, muscles and joints (proprioception) and head movements (vestibular– inner ear sensations). Common signs include:

  • Jumps a lot on beds
  • Bumps or pushes others
  • Grasps objects too tightly or uses too much force
  • Frequently drops things or knocks things over
  • Mouths, licks, chews, or sucks on non-food items
  • Craves movement, e.g. likes to spin self around
  • Afraid of heights/ swings or slides
  • Has poor balance