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SOS Approach to Feeding

Child reluctantly eating vegetables
Is mealtime with your child filled with smiles and fun, or tears and stress?
Many parents imagine that feeding their little one will be a relatively simple, positive experience.
But the reality is that it doesn’t always turn out to be that way. Sometimes, children refuse to try new foods, become upset during mealtime, or suddenly stop eating foods that used to be their favorite. That can be both unexpected and overwhelming.

If you’re child is showing signs of feeding difficulties, the SOS Approach to Feeding could help.

The SOS (Sequential-Oral-Sensory) Approach is a research-backed program that incorporates a whole-child perspective.

A child’s feeding difficulties are assessed and addressed through a focus on fostering a positive association with mealtime. The approach can be used by therapists working with a child and by parents.

According to research, a child can be an established picky eater by the age of four. And though parents may mean well, pressuring a child to eat a food they’ve refused isn’t proven to help them develop a more well-rounded diet.

Intervening early and working with a Speech-Language Pathologist who uses the SOS Approach to Feeding can help improve your child’s feeding behaviors.

A Picky Eater vs. A Problem Feeder

Does your child turn their head or gag when seeing a new food on their plate? Are you struggling to get him or her to eat?
An Evaluation with a Speech Therapist can help determine whether your child’s feeding behaviors would indicate the need for feeding therapy implementing the SOS Approach.

Picky eating is considered to be a common stage of development. The SOS Approach to Feeding differentiates a child who would be considered to be a Picky Eater and one who is a Problem Feeder.

Picky Eater vs Problem Feeder Chart
If a child shows characteristics of a problem feeder, he or she might benefit from feeding therapy with a Speech Therapist.

Identifying the Issue

Eating might seem to be an easy, natural act. But it’s actually one of the most complex things our bodies do!

The SOS Approach to Feeding involves looking at the 7 areas of human functions that are involved in eating. Finding where the breakdown is can help answer the question of why your child is showing refusals or other difficult behaviors during mealtime.

A comprehensive feeding evaluation assesses these 7 areas of human functioning that are involved in eating:

  1. Organ Systems
  2. Motor and Oral Motor Abilities
  3. Sensory Processing
  4. Learning History/Style/Capacity
  5. Development
  6. Nutrition
  7. Environmental Factors
Some children may have allergies or intolerances that make them uncomfortable and are the root of their mealtime stress. Some may have weak oral motor abilities (the muscles in the mouth and jaw used for eating).

A sensory processing disorder could be the reason why some kids only seem to eat crunchy foods, or refuse foods that have a certain texture.

The first step towards improving a child’s feeding skills is uncovering why he or she is showing signs of difficulties in the first place.

In the SOS Approach to Feeding, those areas are then addressed using what’s known as Play with a Purpose and the Steps to Eating.

Play with a Purpose

Children learn best through play.
Learning through play creates a positive, motivating experience for a child. And that’s what eating should be all about.

According to the SOS Approach to Feeding, play can help desensitize a child to the cause of their anxiety during mealtime.

Exploring and learning about food by touching, smelling, and seeing it can help increase a child’s comfort level.
While fingerpainting their highchair tray with yogurt might be a mess, experiences like this gives the child a chance to interact with food in a playful, stress-free way.

The Steps to Eating

Quality over quantity.

That’s the philosophy of the SOS Approach to Feeding. A hierarchy of small steps is followed to build strong, positive associations with foods, even if they aren’t eaten in large amounts.
The 6 Steps to Eating are:
  • Look at the food.
  • Interact with the food without directly touching it to your skin (such as with a utensil).
  • Smell (so the child’s body can process and manage the smell).
  • Touch with the fingers, hands, body, and then mouth.
  • Taste (starting with the tip of tongue, then putting the food in the mouth & spitting it out)
  • Chew & swallow the food.
The SOS Approach to Feeding states that according to research, parents are only the cause of the child’s feeding problem in 5-10% of the case.
But, parents do play an important role in a child’s feeding behaviors.
By working with a Speech-Language Pathologist or Occupational Therapist trained in the SOS Approach to Feeding, and continuing to use the strategies at home, your child can develop a lifelong positive relationship with food!

Additional Resources

When your child refuses foods and has tantrums at mealtime, it can be hard to know what to do.

Behaviors like these can be just the tip of the iceberg. A therapist trained in the SOS Approach to Feeding can assess what’s underneath the surface to identify the why behind a child’s difficult feeding behaviors.

If you have concerns about your child’s feeding skills, specialized services from a Speech Therapist or Occupational Therapist can help. An initial evaluation can help determine what difficulties your child is having. Ongoing individualized therapy can include techniques and a specialized approach to help improve these areas.

TherapyWorks offers speech therapy, occupational and physical therapy both in person (in Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio) and through teletherapy (nationwide). If you would like to learn more, or discuss your child’s specific needs, please don’t hesitate to reach out to TherapyWorks!

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