This week I was jazzed to have OT, Lori Goodrich back on the podcast. First, we dove into the sensory system with Lori on episode four of Voices of Your Village (check that one out if you haven’t already). This time we looked specifically at the sensory system and how it pertains to feeding tiny humans.
When a young child is experiencing challenges related to eating, there are a number of sensory factors that can be at play. Commonly when we think about an eating experience we think of the look, smell, and feel of the food. Lori looks at a much larger picture. Is their body supported in such a way to allow the movements required for eating? Is the lighting particularly bright? Is the room loud? Have there been a lot of interruptions? What has the rest of the kiddo’s day looked like? Are they relaxed enough to feel hungry or have they been in distress? Lori emphasizes that these functional issues can have a profound impact on eating experiences.
Lori shared insight about how to determine whether or not a kiddo is experiencing sensory challenges. A toddler refusing a food for the sake of refusal is developmentally expected and normal. A toddler who refuses certain food has challenges with certain types of clothing and also has difficulty with diaper changes might be experiencing some sensory challenges. Lori shared that when you’re unsure whether or not something is developmentally typical an OT assessment can be incredibly helpful.
Lori also answered your questions about how and when to start solid foods. From purees to hard munchables, to puffs, to pouches, Lori breaks it down and shares how these things can be helpful (or sometimes, not so helpful) in building oral awareness. We also talked about cutting up foods, determining a safe size for your kiddo, and how to set up a safe environment for moving onto bigger, more challenging foods.
Lori gave some helpful insight into pacifier use. They are good for self-soothing but have the potential to change the structure of the mouth and create oral motor challenges. This is not to say that pacifiers will definitely cause oral-motor problems, but just that parents should be aware of the downsides and help their kiddos build some coping strategies outside of the pacifier, more to come on that in an upcoming episode all about pacifiers.
While chatting about high chairs, Lori shared how to determine if your kiddo is well supported while eating, and how this can impact their feeding abilities. She also mentioned the Tripp Trapp chair, which is a highly adjustable chair that grows with your kiddo by adjusting both the seat and the footrest, explaining that dangling feet can add to sensory challenges.
Lori and I discussed the distinction between speech therapy and OT. Sometimes what appears to be a language delay, can actually be a sensory challenge that is impeding oral motor development. So having an OT evaluation and looking at the bigger picture can help identify the root of the issue. When the root sensory issue is addressed, the language comes along naturally.
The last big topic we discussed was the way food impacts behavior. Lori shared that from the time we ingest the food until it’s out of the system, there are many places along the way that things can go awry. Inflammation from food can manifest as food avoidance, tantrums, and other behavioral challenges. Lori emphasizes the need to look at the root cause. Things like reflux and constipation are symptoms of a larger problem. She recommends evaluating gut health and running tests, such as one that looks for bacterial overgrowths.
Have more questions? Pop into our Facebook group, where Lori and I are hanging out to support you on this journey!