Welcome back to our “picky eating” and possible underlying reasons behind it series. We have already discussed the importance of tongue mobility for eating and swallowing, as well as the importance of muscle strength. Today our focus will be on sensory concerns with feeding. While sensory processing can encompass multiple areas of concern, for the purpose of this post we will be focusing on sensory concerns specifically tied to eating.
We all have sensory systems which regulate and manage the information that is coming in from our environment. Specific to eating, this would include sensations such as temperature, taste (sweet, salty, bitter, etc.), texture (crunchy, mushy, etc.), sight (what does the food look like), and scent. For children who have sensory processing issues, eating can be a challenge. With so many sights, tastes, textures, scents and possibly temperatures of food on one plate, this can be very overwhelming for some children. Alternatively, some children need more sensation to really register food in their mouth. These children may only eat foods that give them a lot of sensory input such as foods that are sour, spicy, chewy, etc.
Think about the foods that your child eats… are there any patterns that you notice? Does he/she only eat crunchy foods, cold foods, white foods, spicy foods, salty foods, etc. Sensory concerns for feeding can look very different from child to child. Also, something to also keep in mind is that muscle weakness can look like sensory preferences. As discussed in last week’s post, children who are unable to chew crunchy/hard foods will avoid them, opting for easier to chew foods. Considering this from a sensory viewpoint, this could look like a child with a sensory issue rather than muscle weakness. An evaluation by a trained speech language pathologist is key to determining the reason for the picky eating. When the underlying reason is known, a treatment plan can be effective in resolving the issue.
While food preferences are something we all have, sensory issues are self-limiting and can prevent proper nutritional intake. If you are concerned for your child, contact a speech language pathologist for an evaluation to determine if he/she could benefit from therapy and what you can do to help at home. Do you have questions or want to schedule an appointment? Call Integrated Therapies at (602) 763-0915.