Occupational Therapy for Picky Eater?

Updated on July 28, 2010
K.B. asks from Atlanta, GA
7 answers

Hi moms, have any of you successfully used Occupational Therapy to help your picky child be a more flexible eater? My son had an initial consultation, and the OT concluded he has some sensory integration issues (almost exclusively eating related, but a bit with 'jumping into new activities'). Often there are underlying issues, like ADHD, Aspergers, or speech delays, but my son is an otherwise healthy 5-year-old of average height and weight. We saw a dietician after tracking his eating for 15 days and he is getting his calories & nutrition (with supplements, of course, and mostly from processed 'junk' food. No veges and few fruits).

I will have to pay for additional OT sessions out of pocket ($150/hour). Before I jump into that kind of expense, I'd love to know what your experience was. How did the OT help your child, what did you do at home to supplement his or her work with the OT, how many sessions did he/she have?. Were the first few sessions the most productive or did it take time to get into a groove? Did your OT recommend any helpful books or websites?

My son is about to start full-day kindergarten, and I'm so anxious about his (not) eating lunch at school.

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answers from Pocatello on

Good for you for figuring this out! Speech Language Pathologists are also trained in this area. The best book I've read is "Just Take a Bite" which is very parent-friendly, and also has exploration options in the back. My youngest began food therapy at 18 months. He is now 4, and hands-down the best eater of all my children (others are ages 8, 13, & 15). I wish I had known there was help available with the first three. (FYI--I respectfully disagree with Lola's post). There is a difference between a picky eater and a resistant eater. Resistant eaters need intervention. I do agree with the post about talking to the school. I'm doubting he will qualify for service through school, but at least ask so you can see if you can get any help for free. As far as how often appointments are, it depends on the severity & how much you work at home. We did therapy 2 x per week the first 2 months, then once monthly for a couple months. We absolutely practiced the strengthening exercises and introduction of textures. It's not a quick process, but there's no point meeting weekly while the child is learning and moving to the next level. Hope this helps!



answers from San Francisco on

What a wonderful mom you are to address this issue! We have a friend whose son is now ten and overweight. He never eats anything at our house when he has a playdate with us. Other moms have brought it up and said that he doesn't eat at their houses either. Just recently the mother told me that he has some sensory integration issues surrounding food.

At ten, there are many social situations that make this difficult. They no longer can say "Oh, isn't he funny" or "He isn't hungry", etc....It's obvious that there is a problem. Also, it is affecting his relationships with his friends and family.

So...I would definitely go to the OT and get this solved. The bad news is that I don't think it will be a quick fix. We are quite familiar with Sensory Integration issues (our middle son has it; not food but other issues) and it is a long road and yes it is quite expensive.

Get the school involved. They should have OT's on staff. He probably won't qualify because usually they need to have a speech issue but it is worth asking because I live in a different state and your state's policies may be different. (let's hope!) This should be in tadem with what you are doing outside of school.

Also do you live near a college? Some colleges have OT programs and they have programs where they need 'real' kids to provide therapy to for a lot less. What I liked about these services were that I knew that they were being supervised by a professor.

Good luck



answers from Denver on

I would just recommend you consider seeing a feeding therapist, rather than just an OT. Feeding Therapists focus on this one issue and are often trained in special techniques. google Kay Toomey and read about her approach to feeding therapy. Kay is at a clinic in Denver, www.starcenter.us , and I know other families who travel to see her specifically, by the way.


answers from Chicago on

My son has Sensory Integration that involves his oral motor skills. I have a BIG problem with him not wanting to eat, he also has speech delay. From what I understand it's really not about picky eating but how his senses process the textures, smells and tastes. He's 3 years old, 38.5 inches and 27 pounds. It's driving me bananas but I'm trying very hard to understand this and to help him. We had a Speech Pathologist through EI that worked with him on his oral motor skills, specifically with the eating issues for 6 months. He would only eat baby food texture for two years so we kept increasing texture and now I mash and dice everything and mix it together as he will not eat the foods separate. He also has to smell everything before he eats it. Still won't eat fruit, vegetables, etc. Maybe look into Speech Pathology as this is an oral motor skill issue. I'm so sorry I can't help but just wanted to let you know you are not alone battling this disorder. Good luck and God bless. Bernie



answers from New York on

is he underweight?
i ask because you said he's otherwise a healthy 5 year old.
are any of your family members picky eaters?
i would not rush into 'treating' anyone about eating issues, unless, you deem his behavior extreme. i am yet to see a child 'happy to be eating.' i think we all have picky eaters one way or another and just depends on how much we cater to their 'food tantrums.'
i, personally, gave up the battle trying to cook 4-5 a day to please my 2 kids. it was a losing battle. it was a rough 2 years until i got them to understand that what's on the plate it will be eaten or there is nothing else coming their way.
i think until then they knew i'd give in and make them whatever they wanted. my decision wasn't fully welcomed at first but within 2 years things changed.
granted, i don't serve mega portions. i even allow my children to tell me how much. but they know, whatever is on the plate has to be eaten.
ok i said all this not knowing exactly how severe your son's behavior is in terms of eating. if very severe and something you feel you cannot correct yourself then maybe sessions are what's left as options. but boy those seem like expensive things to get into.
i would also be afraid to have someone treated for 'food issues.' i mean would that be something the child would end up having this love-hate relationship for a long time?
my mom didn't deal with my 'food issues' well. i was just never hungry. i ate some, and i ate whatever was served but ate little. i didn't like to eat so i was always always underweight. i am still underweight but it's my natural body. i can eat unhealthy, healthy whatever, but i don't have a big appetite. my first meal of the day is around 1 pm. it's always been like this.
but my mom 'tried' treating me. got me into these 'natural' medicine, teas etc. all they did was make me puke. and puke i did. they messed my whole body up. i'd probably gain 3-4 kilograms initially then spend 2 weeks feeling sick to my stomach and then throw up from how sick they made me fell. so i would lose those 3-4 kgs and then a few more too.
my mom's battle ended when i moved out.
she still says how skinny i am and that it bothers her a lot.
so, please think about it, and also consult your son's pediatrician. get a few opinions before you 'sign' him up for those sessions.
good luck
PS one of my daughter's is a very very very slow eater. she could take 3 hours to eat one meal if i allowed her. she gets distracted, does not have a much of an appetite. i was freaking out before she started kindergarten. her cycle was: miss a meal, or don't eat much then a bit later get into a huge tantrum from hunger. really not a pretty sight. and she wouldn't know those were hunger pains.
so i sent a note to her K teacher and explained that my daughter needed 'encouragement and reminder' during lunch because if she doesn't eat the following would happen.
once she had a hunger tantrum the teacher got on board and would give my daughter extra 15 minutes to finish her lunch, making sure she was reminded to concentrate on eating. life was better for everyone in class :). so i hope you get a compassionate teacher willing to work with you on these issues.



answers from Denver on

As a child care provider, I found this book really helpful for the picky eaters in my care. http://www.babybites.info it talks about getting all the senses involved, not just taste and the author has suggestions on how to do that. The children need to learn to touch the food first, because if they won't touch the food, they won't eat the food. There are recipes in there too. There are chapters on the different ages of children and different things to do with the child depending on age to get them to eat real food.



answers from Atlanta on

I did not know they had OT for that. I encourage my childern to taste everything at least once. I explain to them how they change as they become older. I try to find a new thing to taste every week. If they like it we incorporate it into our diet. If they don't I wait a couple of months to try it again. So things they did not like before could be different this time becasue they are older. They are allowed to stand over the trash can and taste it, and if they do not like it I say something like okay you just haven't grown enough for that yet and let it go. It is a game of becoming a big boy or girl. Most picky eater do not like the textures of certain items, it is not the taste. So if you know of certain things they do not like group them together and check the texture. My daughter in law does not like fried eggs but will eat scrambled eggs becasue the texture is different. There are many reasons why they will not eat. They go through stages of not eating and then eat everything under the sun. I don't think paying 150 a hour for someone to tell me these things is worth it. Use your mother instincts, think of the things you like and dis like, their father and family. I am always hyped up on a new dish. I get so excited for the kids, get them to help me fix it, by the time they taste it they are excited and don't get on to them for not liking something, always say, you are not big enough yet, your taste buds have not grown up yet. They will try harder because all kids want to be grown up. I hate english pea (sweet peas) always have. All 6 of my children love them and they still do not know I hate them, the attitude we have toward certain foods roll over to them. Hiccups use to scare the kids, I told them to stop those hiccups because it meant they were growing, so now they are so happy about hiccups they come to tell me and I put my hand on their head and stay stop it, they laugh so hard. My fourth child just turned 11, she still does that and if she is not home she will tell me when she gets home she had the hiccups this many times. I tell her I can tell, I beleived she grew 3 inches.

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