Laura Gentile, M.S. CCC-SLP, displays some of the foods she might use in therapy for food aversion.
To the frantic parents who are desperately trying to encourage, scold, bribe or otherwise get their child to eat more foods, Laura Gentile MS, CCC-SLP recommends an evaluation by a pediatric speech therapist for a feeding program.
“When kids cannot tolerate certain textures and refuse foods with those textures, we call that sensory aversion. Speech therapists can offer feeding therapy to help kids overcome oral sensory issues.”
“The first thing we do, especially if the child is pre-language, is have the parents make a list of the foods the child can tolerate.”
“Many children like crunchy foods. Crunchy is safe. Every single crunchy Cheezit tastes exactly like every other crunchy Cheezit. That is not true of blueberries – some are sweet, some may be sour. Some may be firm, others squishy. Or tomatoes, which kids commonly don’t like. They are slimy, they have seeds, they can burst in your mouth. Children expect and know what crunchy tastes like, there is no guessing, therefore there is no ‘fear’.”
“I also look at emotions and behaviors of both child and parents during mealtimes. Does the child sit through the meal or graze? Does the child lack any oral motor skills? What is the child’s behavior towards food, and so on.”
After the Evaluation
“First, we find something the child likes. We like to say that we can get from any food to any food by changing one thing at a time. If the child likes Cheezits, which are crunchy, orange and square, we would next try Cheetohs, which are crunchy, orange but long and thin, so the same texture and color but a new shape. From there, we might progress to carrot sticks, crunchy, orange, same shape. Perhaps on to string cheese, which is a new color. The idea is to change only one component at a time. Over time and with exposure the child is more welcoming to new foods.”
Parents of children with oral aversions can benefit from professional help. “It takes some creative thinking and balancing all the factors,” says Laura, “but feeding programs are very valuable.”