Feeding disorders occur in anywhere from 6 to 40 percent of typically developing children; the percentage of those children with special needs rises to 18 to 80 percent. Children with feeding disorders are often viewed as picky eaters, but there are a few differences between these two problems.
Picky eaters tend to eat food from only one category or only a few foods from each category. These children often have a limited number of foods they will eat, and the number is around 30 different foods. Picky eaters will try new foods, and these children are able to add new foods to their preferred repertoire.
Problem feeders typically cannot tolerate many foods. Their range of foods is typically limited to around 20 foods. Problem feeders also do not like to try new foods, and they often face new foods with a meltdown. These children often refuse to eat foods within a given category or of a certain texture. Children who are problem feeders also tend to lose foods from their repertoire, until they are limited to 5 to 10 foods they will eat.
The causes of picky eaters and problem feeding could be the same. These problems are usually due to a sensory deficit or processing disorder, or it can even stem from a cognitive issue. Treatment can be the same for both conditions, but problem feeding often requires more time and steps towards a healthy diet than picky eaters. Children with feeding disorders often need a combination of occupational, speech, and behavioral therapy, as well as treatment from a physician and nutritionist.
Steps towards healthy eating include eating at the same time every day and following a routine, not allowing food between meals and snacks, offering new foods often, serving in age-appropriate portion sizes, making mealtimes a positive experience, and encouraging self-feeding. Implementing these principles at home as well as receiving professional care and support are essential for solving problem feeding disorders.
Photo by Bruce Tuten