Thursday, September 21, 2017

Therapy Tip: Ways to Promote Independent Eating

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:

Ways to Promote Independent Eating

As a speech-language pathologist working with the birth-three population, I sometimes come across toddlers who are really struggling to use utensils to feed themselves. 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. I tried everything to help her learn to eat by herself. Ultimately, it took practice and some maturity for her to develop the skill (along with occupational therapy). From all of our practicing, I learned some things I could do to help put her in the best position to succeed. Today, I'm sharing three of these things with you.

1. Get the right plate!
You might think any toddler plate will work when teaching a child to use 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. A deep plate or a bowl will provide one level of support for the child. 

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 available with suction cups on the bottle to combat this problem. These are great for chairs with plastic trays. But, I never really had a great suctioning plate that could withstand my daughter's attempts.

Recently, I came across the Happy Mat, which I absolutely love and is pictured above! This is a place mat and plate all in one. This automatically seals to the surface you set it on which keeps the plate stable while the child is trying to scoop against the plate. The other good thing about this product is that does have deep partitions which again helps the child scoop food onto their utensil much easier.

A great alternative to the Happy Mat or other items that promise to seal or suction is simple 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. This is a relatively inexpensive way to keep any plate you have in your cabinet more stable for the new feeder.

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 while others are typical toddler sized bowls. There are spoons with angled handles to help the toddler with limited hand and wrist movements. The 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. (Here's a post specifically about making spoon choices!) 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.

When I work with a child in therapy on self-feeding, I generally start with the fork. I may have to help the child stab a food in order to get it on the fork, but the child can work on rest. A fork is good because the child can turn the utensil any way he pleases and the food won't come off. Whereas, a spoon you often have to keep it positioned level to make sure it stays on. If a child won't eat any foods that can be forked, I try to select easy to stick foods that will help spooning be more successful. Examples of these include: mashed potatoes, pudding, and yogurt.

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

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

submit to reddit