You may have heard about picky eaters, but what if your child's aversions go beyond mere preferences? If your child cringes at the touch of certain fabrics, covers their ears at the slightest sound, is sensitive to bright lights, or avoids messy play like it's their sworn enemy, you may have a child with sensory aversions on your hands. These seemingly unrelated behaviors might be indicative of something more significant that impacts your child's relationship with food.
While picky eaters may have a limited palate, children with sensory eating aversions can experience physical discomfort and even fear when presented with certain foods. Understanding the difference between picky eating and sensory eating aversions can be crucial for parents in supporting their child's healthy relationship with food.
Sensory eating refers to a distinct type of eating behavior characterized by sensitivities to various aspects of food, such as texture, flavor, and smell. Unlike picky eaters who may simply have preferences for certain foods, individuals with sensory eating issues experience sensory overload when faced with specific food characteristics. This can manifest as an aversion to certain textures, leading them to only tolerate smooth, pureed foods while gagging at the sight of crunchy snacks or slices of meat. Sensory eating can also involve sensitivities to flavors and smells, resulting in a limited range of accepted foods.
For individuals with sensory eating issues, the act of eating can be associated with physical and mental discomfort. Rather than enduring potential pain, they may choose not to eat at all. Traditional advice for picky eaters, such as "they get what they get or they don't eat" or "they must try at least one bite," is unlikely to be effective for children with sensory eating issues. These individuals perceive food as a source of pain, and even if they are hungry, they will avoid eating to prevent that discomfort. It is essential to understand and empathize with their perspective to develop appropriate strategies for addressing their sensory sensitivities.
Sensory eating issues can lead to the development of negative associations with food and mealtime. Individuals may begin to fear certain foods and experience heightened stress surrounding eating. This can also extend to eating out in restaurants and participating in social meals. Parents often find themselves constantly reminding and prompting their children to complete each meal, which further adds stress to the overall eating experience. Additionally, concerns about nutrient deficiencies arise, as the physiological reactions to certain foods are compounded by behavioral and emotional stress.
It is crucial to differentiate sensory eating from picky eating, as the strategies that work for picky eaters may not be effective for individuals with sensory eating issues. While picky eaters may have food preferences, sensory eaters perceive food as potentially causing physical discomfort or pain. Recognizing this distinction helps us approach sensory eating with empathy and develop targeted strategies to support these individuals.
Identifying whether your child has sensory eating issues can be challenging, as every child's sensory experiences and preferences are unique. However, there are several signs and behaviors that may indicate the presence of sensory eating issues. Here are some common indicators to look out for:
If you observe several of these signs in your child, it may be an indication of sensory eating issues. However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an occupational therapist or pediatrician specializing in feeding difficulties, to obtain a proper evaluation and diagnosis. These professionals can assess your child's sensory profile, provide individualized strategies, and support your child's sensory needs during mealtimes.
It is crucial to approach mealtimes with sensitivity and respect for your child's unique sensory needs. Here are some helpful strategies to support your child in developing a positive relationship with food without forcing or pressuring them:
Vestibular play involves activities that stimulate the vestibular system, which is responsible for balance and spatial awareness. It includes movements such as swinging, spinning, sliding, and rocking. Engaging in vestibular play helps children improve their balance, coordination, and body awareness.
Proprioceptive play, on the other hand, focuses on activities that provide deep pressure input and joint compression, stimulating the proprioceptive system. This system provides information about body position, muscle movement, and the amount of force needed for different activities. Proprioceptive play can involve activities like climbing, jumping, pushing, pulling, and heavy lifting. These activities help children develop a sense of body awareness, strength, and coordination.
Both vestibular and proprioceptive play are crucial for promoting sensory integration, self-regulation, and overall development in children. They provide valuable sensory input that supports their ability to process and respond to sensory information from their environment effectively. Incorporating these types of play into a child's daily routine can have a positive impact on their sensory processing skills, motor development, and overall well-being.
By implementing these strategies, you can support your child in their sensory eating journey and create a positive mealtime experience that respects their individual needs. Remember, every step counts in helping them develop a healthy relationship with food.
At Little Lunches we encourage family involvement in meal preparation, creating opportunities for shared experiences and bonding. By engaging children in age-appropriate tasks related to food, such as selecting ingredients or participating in simple cooking activities, Little Lunches promotes a sense of empowerment and ownership for kids over their meals.
Ultimately, Little Lunches offers a holistic approach to supporting children with sensory eating aversions by promoting positive mealtime experiences, expanding food choices, and fostering a healthy relationship with food. Through our app's creative and inclusive meal planning strategies, families can embark on a journey of sensory exploration, where every bite becomes an opportunity for growth, discovery, and enjoyment.
Dany Sosa, Orofacial-Myofunctional Feeding Therapist
Sabir, M., Saeed, H., & Iqbal, F. (2021). Sensory Processing Difficulties and Their Association with Quality of Life among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 13(7), e16745. doi:10.7759/cureus.16745. Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9218328/
6 months ago