Why Sensory Issues Cause Feeding Issues

chicken nuggets

By popular demand, we’ve been asked to do a series on feeding. 

When we assess kids for sensory issues, we find that feeding and food intake is a huge issue.  This is not surprising, because if you have sensory issues in your body you probably have them in your mouth too. Feeding issues can be a strong indicator that your child has sensory issues. If you find that you’re making separate meals for your child because he won’t eat what the rest of the family is eating, that’s another strong indicator that there are some sensory problems going on.

Textures or Smell Intolerance

Feeding issues can be things like texture intolerance or smell intolerance, but one thing that all of our clients with feeding issues have is a very limited diet. They might be eating only 5-10 different items, and of course a young, growing child should have 10 times that repertoire. When their diet is that limited, they’re not eating from all the basic food groups. This can lead to dietary and nutritional problems that you might want to see a specialist about. That’s a whole other topic, but it’s something to think about. 

Typical Diet For a Child With Sensory Issues

Let’s talk about what a typical diet looks like for the clients that come in here: Generally speaking they eat chicken nuggets (and they’re brand-specific), french fries, cheese, crackers—salty things that are “bready” which will kind of dissolve in their mouths. They don’t eat a lot of fresh fruits or vegetables. Sometimes there may be one fruit they’ll eat—possibly an apple, because it’s crunchy, but they’re very specific even on the color of the apple. They also tend to not eat a lot of other meats. 

Parents ask us, “Why is that the case?” What we’ve found is that the items that they’re choosing are the items we call “pre-digested food,” which means they’re not actually having to work to chew that food. The difference between a chicken nugget and a chicken breast is that there are tendons in the breast, so you actually have to work to eat it, where the nugget actually dissolves.

Problems with Motor Skills

So what we know is that these kids are having issues with textures, but they’re also having issues with strength and motor control with their mouths, just like they have with their hands. They pick these things that are very simple to eat, things that kind of dissolve and go down easily. But we also find that in terms of consuming liquids, even things like shakes, they don’t like those because that’s too thick of a texture. So there is both a strength and a texture component.

This is very typical with what we see with many of our clients. I’ve actually had parents with kids who only eat chicken nuggets and fries, and when it comes to a holiday they have to go to a fast food restaurant and purchase those items before the store closes.

We’re going to have more in this series, and we’re going to be talking about more food and feeding issues. If you notice that your kids are having problems like this with food, please give us a call! Maybe we can give you some suggestions, or you may be a candidate for treatment for sensory issues. 

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