It’s something you think come naturally, but in many cases children have to be taught to eat.
“Because of a disorder, certain physical impairment or they just are delayed they might not learn how to develop properly in their chewing because there are actually different ways of how your jaw moves to chew,” says Valerie Rodriguez-Adhikari Speech Pathologist with Lee Memorial Health System.
7-year-old AJ Chamorro has cerebral palsy, a condition that affects most all of his physical movements.
“We’re working here, doing some therapy, occupational and also speech,” says Rodriguez-Adhikari.
A speech therapist is helping AJ with his eating, beginning with evaluating his overall motor skills, oral sensory skills and swallowing motions. It can mean starting from scratch.
“We can practice chewing with special tubs like rubbery tubs and stuff like that when its not safe for them yet to be chewing,” says Rodriguez-Adhikari.
Addressing feeding problems is important for preventing nutritional concerns and to eliminate unsafe swallowing that could lead to choking.
“A lot of kids will develop sensory issues related to feeding especially if they’ve had a medical condition like reflux where its painful for them to eat so then they don’t want to eat and when they do they gag,” says Rodriguez-Adhikari.
Learning how to eat is a progressive process, working through food types as the child’s skills get better. In that respect, much of the therapy is done at the family dinner table.
“A lot of it is parent education, things that they can do at home because what we can do in a 45 minute session once or twice a week here is you know difficult compared to three meals a day,” says Rodriguez-Adhikari.It’s all about giving children a healthy start.