Thursday, August 4, 2016

Therapy Tip-3 Ways to Help Toddlers Use Utensils

Welcome to therapy Thursday!
This is the day that I give a tip based upon my experience as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a mother of a child with special needs.

Today's tip is for:

Helping Toddlers Use Utensils

As a speech-language pathologist working with the birth-three population, I sometimes come across toddlers who are really struggling to use utensils. These toddlers often have low muscle tone and/or fine motor issues that make holding and using utensils difficult. When Jaycee was a toddler, she struggled greatly with this. It wasn't until she was 3.5 years old when she was able to successfully and independently use a fork and a spoon.

Here are my 3 basic tips and things to consider when helping toddlers who are struggling to use spoons and forks.

1. Get the right plate!
You might think any toddler plate will work when teaching utensils. For those toddlers that are having issues, they may benefit from using a deep toddler plate. Here is the deepest toddler plate I have at home.

It may look similar to the ones you have in your cabinet but this one is at least an inch deep. This depth is important when a child uses the sides of the plate to help food get onto the spoon. A plate with short sides or sides that curve out will make it more challenging for the child who is working on using utensils independently.

2. Make sure the plate is secure.
Another thing that needs to be looked at for some toddlers is the movement of the plate. If the toddler is really working to get the food on the utensil, the plate may slide or shift around which only causes more problems for the toddler. There are many plates sold with suction cups on the bottle to combat this problem. These are great for high chair trays. Back when my kids were small, I didn't have any luck with these suctioning enough to stay put. If this is happening for your child too, then a great alternative is to purchase some cabinet shelf liner. You can cut a piece of liner out for your child's plate to sit on. This should help minimize the movement of the plate while allowing the toddler to be more independent.

3. Get the right fork and spoon.
There are many different spoons and forks available in chain stores and online. I have a large collection of spoons but here are a few:
Depending on your child's issue, they may have more success with a specific type of spoon. There are spoons with thicker handles while some have thin handles. There are spoons made with flatter bowls (open part) while others are typical toddler sized bowls. There are spoons with angled handles to help the toddler with limited hand and wrist movements. These differences in utensils are important for some feeding issues. For example, toddlers with Down syndrome who have smaller oral cavities in general, may benefit from spoons that have bowl sizes that are smaller. If your child receives occupational therapy or speech-language pathology, they should be able to observe your child eat and make a recommendation for you on which utensil might be most successful.

If your toddler is struggling, try some of these tips, consult your child's therapist, and keep working!

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended as therapeutic advice.

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