Pediatric Feeding Disorders

Pediatric feeding disorders, also called pediatric avoidant/restrictive food intake disorders, entail many forms of eating challenges depending upon the cause(s) of an individual’s disorder, which includes developmental disorders such as autism. This can lead to physical changes in your child such as weight loss, nutritional deficiencies, or problems with everyday functioning.

Your child may avoid eating or limiting what they will or will not eat. This may worry you, and other family members may be critical, leaving you feeling inadequate and guilty. Feeding disorders can cause disruptions to your entire family due to the negative experiences that can occur as you try to encourage your child to eat, such as meltdowns, and displays of anxiety. Social activities that include eating with others can be a problem as well.

We know this can be frustrating for you as a parent, and for your entire family.

Feeding Disorders are Common

You may feel isolated with your child’s pediatric feeding disorder, but we want you to know that you are far from being alone with it. These disorders are common among children. Up to 25% of all children are reported to have some form of a feeding disorder. Many of these conditions are mild. The percentage of kids with the disorder increases to about 80% in developmentally challenged children, which impacts a preponderance of kids on the autism spectrum.

Feeding Disorder Causes

Feeding disorders can start at a young age, and it can also develop from multiple factors.

Your child may have continued to suck their thumb, for example, beyond the typical age of doing so. This may have created oral habit issues.

Your child may have difficulties with a range of motion with their jaw, lips, cheeks, or tongue.

Common causes of pediatric feeding disorder:

  • Sensory issues (taste, smell, texture, over or under stimulation)
  • Poor oral motor skills
  • Stomach or gastrointestinal problems (abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and reflux)
  • Anxiety
  • Negative feeding experiences (history of gagging, coughing, vomiting, or food allergies)

Children develop patterns of food avoidance or aversions. They learn by experience that they either have had to fight to not eat or to take flight to get away from eating. In the case of an autistic non-verbal child, they typically have trouble communicating what they cannot do. Appropriate changes in food presentation such as portion size, food textures that the child likes, or a change in how the food is served from a sensory perspective can help tremendously with feeding issues.

Feeding disorders can occur in one or more of the four stages of feeding:

  • Oral Preparation Stage – Preparing the food in the mouth to form a bolus – includes liquids, soft food, and the chewing of solid food. Your child resists putting food in their mouth.
  • Oral Transit Phase – Moving food through the oral cavity – usage of the tongue. Food sits in your child’s mouth.
  • Pharyngeal Phase – Moving the food bolus or liquid from the mouth by swallowing. Your child resists swallowing the food and/or gags.
  • Esophageal Phase – Moving the food from the esophagus into the stomach. Your child may vomit, cough, or gag.

Our Diagnosis and Therapies

Our pathologists are trained in several oral motor/feeding diagnosis and treatment methods and use oral-motor therapy exercises to develop awareness, strength, coordination, and mobility of the oral muscles.

Our feeding therapy methods include:

  • Talk Tools ®- Feeding Therapy – A Sensory-Motor Approach
  • SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) Approach to Feeding
  • Interactive Oral Sensory-Motor in Autism
  • Pediatric Feeding Assessment and Treatment
  • Beckman Oral Motor Assessment & Intervention
  • Pediatric Feeding: The Big Picture
  • Food Chaining

Our therapists have extensive experience with sensory integration disorders. We also collaborate with occupational and physical therapists to gain a better understanding of each child’s unique needs.

Our services include:

  • Oral motor Assessment
  • Feeding Assessment
  • Oral Motor Therapy
  • Feeding Therapy

You, the parent, take on the role of team member as well. Our methods are designed to extend therapy into the home. You will not only observe our processes, but you will also learn how to manage and support your child’s disorder comfortably in your home environment.

Contact Us

If you are interested in our pediatric feeding disorder services, or if you have any questions about our services, we urge you to email us at [email protected] or call us at (713) 522-8880.



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