Nutrition habits are a foundation for a healthy lifestyle. During infancy, important changes occur in the body and brain over the span of one year. At birth, a baby depends on its parents for all nutrition needs. By the end of the first year, a child may be finger feeding and drinking independently. During the toddler years, nutrition habits can seem like a battle of the “terrible twos.” Children may be carrying their lunch boxes to school to eat with peers by kindergarten. During these first five years, habits around eating begin to form. A healthy dietary pattern optimizes the body’s ability to prevent diseases.
Why is a child’s nutrition essential for early development, and what impact does an improper diet have on a child, physically and emotionally?
The first five years of a child’s life are devoted to obtaining, refining, and maintaining the skills for self-feeding a variety of food types safely in the context of a strong social and emotional connection with peers and family members during meals and snacks. Healthy relationships with food may start with healthy relationships with people. The people providing the food and how the food is presented may affect the foundation for good nutrition. In addition to meeting nutrition needs, meals and snacks may be a foundation for social and emotional connections. Struggles at mealtimes may result in a disconnect between peers and caregivers and contribute to difficulties in self-regulation skills. If a child or family member is struggling in this area, there may be ways to help.
How can we help?
Occupational therapy may assist with the development of visual-motor skills to support utensil use, oral motor skills to support proper lip/tongue/jaw movements during self-feeding, and address any sensory-based hypersensitivities or hyposensitivities that may affect food selectivity. Children with neurological, musculoskeletal, and sensory processing disorders may benefit from occupational therapy services to establish mealtime routines, address picky eating, and support oral motor muscle development.
Speech therapy may assist with the development of proper oral-facial muscle symmetry and synergy to support the proper mechanical breakdown of foods for safe swallowing and appropriate nutrition. Oral facial myology (myofunctional therapy) addresses concerns with facial structures, for example, tight oral tissues, which restrict movements of the oral motor musculature.
Physical therapy creates a strong base of support in sitting with trunk and head positioning to provide optimal airway protection during self-feeding or assisted feeding activities. Diagnoses such as torticollis, cerebral palsy, Down’s syndrome, and others create imbalances in the large muscle groups used to maintain a good seated posture during meals and snacks.
- Sequential-Oral-Sensory (SOS) feeding therapy
- “Get Permission Approach”
- Beckman Oral Motor Assessment and Intervention
- Talk Tools Sensory Motor Approach
- Sensory Integration Certificate area of emphasis in Sensory Based Feeding
Our Feeding Specialist
Anna Baker MA OTR/L BCP SIPT, has Board Certification in Pediatrics (BCP) from the American Occupational Therapy Association. She graduated from the University of Southern California and has certification in the Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT). She has also recently updated her knowledge in sensory integration with completion of the University of Southern California Chan Sensory Integration Certificate area of emphasis in Sensory Based Feeding and Eating Challenges. Anna also has focused coursework in specialized treatment feeding methods such as the Kay Toomey Sequential-Oral-Senosry (SOS) approach, Beckman Oral Motor Assessment and Intervention, Talk Tools Sensory Motor approach, and the Marsha Dunn Klein “Get Permission” approach. Anna also has advanced training from the American Occupational Therapy Association in evaluation and treatment of children with autism. Children with a diagnosis of autism may exhibit problems with oral motor planning required for specific movements to chew a variety of foods, difficulties processing the sensory inputs (taste, touch, smell, etc.) of foods, and difficulties with rigidity in routines for meals and snacks. Anna has a passion for creating positive changes in the parent and child relationship to support optimal feeding and nutrition. She finds joy in coaching parents through activities to see lasting changes in the child’s relationship to foods and finding a way to support positive food exploration.