Many children who have some form of a sensory processing disorder struggle with food. This can cause some kids to absolutely refuse to eat much of anything at all, to the point where the child is on the verge of malnutrition. The more a parent can understand about what their child is experiencing, the better the chance there is that the child will, eventually, choose to eat something.
It’s not unusual for children to go through a stage where he or she becomes a “picky eater”. Often, this is something that happens when a child is transitioning between baby food and more solid food. A lot of young children have a handful of favorite foods that their parents know, without a doubt, the child will happily eat. Eventually, most children grow to enjoy a wide variety of different foods. This isn’t the case with children who have sensory integration disorders.
The act of eating involves a whole lot of different sensory stimulations. Each individual food on a dinner plate has it’s own color, smell, and texture. It might be hot, cold, or room temperature. It’s common for one kind of food to be mixed with a different kind, and eaten all at once (like in a casserole, pasta, or rice dish), which changes the way we experience both those foods. Eating involves a lot of different motor skills, as well, and many children with sensory integration disorders have difficulty coordinating their bodies.
Parents need to realize that there is no amount of yelling, threatening, or punishment that is going to influence a child who is struggling with sensory difficulties to eat a food that the child just isn’t prepared to deal with at that time. Keep in mind that you child isn’t choosing not to eat. Your child is simply too sensitive to whatever sensory information that particular food is giving off, and is struggling to be able to deal with all of it. Your child is overwhelmed, and possibly scared.
Don’t panic, though, because there are things you can do to help your child with some of those sensory issues. It will work best if you move slowly, and avoid pressuring your child to eat. Start by having a particular food at the dinner table, but not on the child’s plate. A therapist can help your child with this process.
Another idea is to try and make the food fun. Present a meal entirely made of foods that are a certain shape, like round or square. Make a meal that is just one color. Allow your child to touch, feel, and otherwise play with the food. Give your child time to explore the sensory experience of the food, and to process it, at his or her own pace.
Image by Heather Katsoulis on Flickr