Feeding disorders are characterized by extreme food selectivity (beyond pickiness) by type, (exclude more than one food group from the child’s diet); by texture (only eat smooth or crunchy foods); or by brand, shape or color. Some children develop feeding problems due to a medical condition such as reflux or a severe illness. Some have poor oral motor skills and have difficulty chewing and swallowing and this restricts their diet. What separates feeding disorders from picky children is that children with feeding disorders tend to not eat in other situations outside of their home due to their extreme selectivity.
How common are feeding disorders and who is affected?
1-5% of all hospital admissions are for Failure to Thrive, a condition that is correlated with feeding disorders. Prevalence numbers range widely from 5%-20% of children in the normal population being diagnosed with feeding disorders. Children of all backgrounds can have a feeding disorder. Groups of children who are more likely to be diagnosed with a feeding disorder include premature infants, children with Failure to Thrive, children with autism, and children with various genetic syndromes. The prevalence of feeding disorders in children with disabilities ranges from 40% to 80%.
How are they diagnosed?
Feeding disorders are best diagnosed by a team of professionals including GI Physicians, Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Clinical Dieticians and Pediatric Psychologists. These individuals should have specialized training in feeding disorders. They will evaluate medical concerns, oral motor skills, swallowing skills, nutritional concerns, and behavioral concerns associated with mealtimes. Children having problems in two or more areas should be seen by a Feeding Team.
Feeding disorders are usually treated for all medical concerns first to make sure the child is safe and comfortable for eating. Nutrition assists with making appropriate food choices for growth and development, OT and Speech address skill development and Psychology assists with mealtime structure and compliance. We often work together via outpatient therapy to provide a comprehensive treatment plan for each child as is appropriate.