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For many households across Australia, mealtimes can feel like battle zones as parents face off fussy eaters—and it can be a normal part of development, that’s soon grown out of.

But there’s a difference between a fussy eater and a problem feeder and the likelihood of problem feeding rises when disability is part of the equation: up to 85% of children with developmental disabilities, for example.

Red flags to act on

Therapy Pro feeding expert Marta Barake, who has responded to mealtime calls for help for years, says the following signs suggest you may be facing more than a young child being assertive and making choices.

  • Losing weight – there are lots of causes and not always as obvious as food refusal. Kids that ‘graze’ may have half the caloric intake of siblings who sit down to eat.
  • Gaining excessive weight – some children have insatiable appetites and don’t ever feel ‘full’.
  • Vomiting. This could be a sign of an allergy or food intolerance; it may also be due to posture or gastrointestinal disease, and it can be behavioural. “I introduced egg at the appropriate age to my first boy and faced projectile vomiting. It was really alarming! It turned out to be an intolerance,” Marta recalls.
  • Repeated coughing, gagging or choking at mealtime can suggest swallowing difficulties.
  • Difficulty transitioning from pureed food to more varied textures.
  • Resistance to transitioning from a sipper to a cup.
  • Regular constipation. Restricted diets such as only eating dry white food can impact on nutrition and healthy gut function.
  • Mealtime behaviours such as tantrums, food refusal and avoidance/escape from the table.

What advice involves

Asking for help with a child’s feeding involves initial assessment that will include looking at:

  • physical development, including motor and sensory skills, and nutrition
  • developmental stages and milestones including communication
  • social and emotional development
  • mealtime experiences.

“Eating isn’t the simple two-step process we think of. It’s one of the most complex tasks we engage in, involving all our senses, organs and muscles, and being influenced by environment,” says Marta.

The underlying reason may be physical or behavioural. Your child may benefit from the support of a speech and language therapist (also trained in issues relating to swallowing and eating), or occupational therapist or psychologist—or combination.

While it can take time and lots of small steps to improve chronic problem feeding, a consistent approach and having the expertise of a team of therapists like multi-disciplinary Therapy Pro behind you will help support your child overcome their feed in difficulties and let you all enjoy the positive experience of mealtime.

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