A child with a feeding disorder does not consume enough food (or liquid or a broad enough variety of food) to gain weight and grow normally.
General feeding difficulties are relatively common among most children. For example, a child may be a picky eater and consume a limited number of foods, but the foods eaten span all the food groups and provide a well-balanced diet. A child with a feeding disorder, on the other hand, may only eat a few foods, completely avoiding entire food groups, textures or liquids necessary for proper development. As a result, children diagnosed with feeding disorders are at greater risk for compromised physical and cognitive development. Children with feeding disorders may also develop slower, experience behavioral problems and even fail to thrive. Severe feeding disorders can cause children to feel socially isolated and often put financial strains on families.
There are many different types of feeding disorders, and they can take on one or more of the following forms:
- Trouble accepting and swallowing different food textures
- Throwing tantrums at mealtimes
- Refusing to eat certain food groups
- Refusing to eat any solids or liquids
- Choking, gagging or vomiting when eating
- Oral motor and sensory problems
- Gastrostomy (g-tube) or naso-gastric (ng-tube) dependence
Feeding disorders typically develop for several reasons, including medical conditions (food allergies), anatomical or structural abnormalities (e.g., cleft palate), and reinforcement of inappropriate behavior In most cases, no single factor accounts for a child's feeding difficulties. Rather, several factors interact to produce them.
While a wide spectrum of factors can contribute to feeding disorders, certain medical and psychological conditions may accompany them. We see children with conditions related to one or more of the following:
- Gastroesophageal refux disease
- Gastrointestinal motility disorders
- Palate defects
- Failure to thrive
- Oral Motor Dysfunction (dysfunctional swallow, dysphagia, oral motor dysphagia)
- Food allergies
- Delayed exposure to a variety of foods
- Behavior management issues
- Short Gut Syndrome
Awareness of risk factors and clinical presentations of feeding disorders, combined with appropriate referrals at an early age, will produce the best outcomes for children and their families.