The struggles of a parent during mealtime with a picky eater can range from bad to worse. It often begins with the ever-present protest of “No!” then ends with screaming, tantrums and food flying across the room. The question remains: is the food refusal normal of a picky eater or could the signs be more consistent with a feeding disorder?
A pediatric feeding problem is often accompanied by a developmental delay or medical disorder. These can include, but are not limited to, autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, gastrointestinal motility disorders, cerebral palsy, respiratory disorders or cystic fibrosis.
Children who were hospitalized for an extended time at birth or who received a tracheotomy or feeding tube may also have difficulty transitioning to an age appropriate feeding pattern. However, children who are considered typically developing can also develop a fear of food. Research shows that 25 percent of children suffer with some degree of a feeding disorder. In children who suffer from a developmental, neurological or genetic disorders, that number rises to 80 percent (Branan & Ramsey, 2010).
A feeding disorder is characterized by any difficulties eating or drinking including chewing, sucking or swallowing. Children who have not developed age appropriate feeding skills and/or have a genetic, developmental or behavioral disorders can have difficulty during mealtime.
Some signs and symptoms of a problem feeder include:
In order to better treat children with feeding problems, it is important to understand those children who do not meet the criteria. Children who are picky eaters present with the following signs and symptoms (Toomey 2010; Arvedson 2008):
Although mealtimes with either issue can be difficult for parents, distinguishing between the two helps SLPs create the best individualized treatment approach.
Once a professional diagnoses a child with a feeding disorder, there are three key concepts to remember:
Treating a child with a feeding disorder is a challenging but rewarding task. The end goal of treatment should always be a safe, happy and healthy eater.
April Anderson, MA, CCC-SLP - National Speech/Language Therapy Center
This article was published on ASHAsphere on January 8, 2015
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