Allison Burrows, BS, SLPA
Speech-Language Pathologist Assistant

Social skills and feeding skills are closely linked, please expand on this topic overall.

Children often learn from imitating others. Eating is an activity often enjoyed with others.  Research shows that social situations enhance a child’s willingness to try new foods (Skinner et al, 2002). A child’s interest in watching and imitating others increases after 18 months of age. 

How does a parent know their child may benefit from feeding social group therapy? Should a child first be in private feeding therapy to be recommended? 

First, a child needs an individual feeding evaluation to determine if feeding therapy is warranted. A therapist may recommenda child go straight into group or try individual feeding therapy first and add in a weekly group session later on. If a child is cognitively interested and physically able to observe others in a group, approximately 18 months to 6 years of age, can follow the routine and structure of group within 3 sessions, and medically safe for oral feeds, they are a candidate for group feeding therapy.

What does a typical feeding group therapy session include?

Typical group sessions begin with a gross motor/sensory activity (i.e. marching while blowing bubbles). Once this activity is completed, the children are seated at the table and given “table bubbles”. These bubbles are simply dish soap and water. These activities provided a sensory and oral motor component and begin to signal to the child that it is almost time to eat. Once the children have played with the bubbles, a washcloth is presented. This washcloth will be used throughout the treatment session to wipe the children’s hands or even their tongue if a taste or texture is too overwhelming. Next, the plates and silverware are passed out. Each of the activities until this point is repeated each week. Routine is imperative when using the SOS approach. After the plates are passed out, one food is placed on the child’s plate at a time. More than one food can be overwhelming for children. When the food is presented, the therapist will begin to imitate how the children are playing with the food and provide sensory information regarding the food. Once all foods are presented, the therapist prompts the children to tell the food “goodbye”. This technique is used to help the children move up the “steps to eating” hierarchy and provide a new and exciting experience for the child.

What topics are covered during a typical feeding group therapy?

Typically, food play and social role modeling are the primary treatment techniques that are used during feeding group. Children see their peers interacting with foods in various ways and receiving verbal praise. This is generally very motivating for children. The sensory properties of food are also discussed throughout the treatment session. This helps bring awareness to what is occurring while the child is chewing or otherwise interacting with the food. Following the treatment session, parent education regarding various topics (i.e. reasons children won’t eat, steps to eating, and family meals vs. therapy meals).

How often do feeding groups meet?

Feeding groups typically meet once a week, but the children in the group may receive individual feeding therapy during the week as well.

What to expect if your child begins feeding group therapy.

When children begin feeding group therapy, parents can expect to observe each treatment session when able. They will receive education and materials; as well as discuss ways to problem-solve ongoing issues at home with their therapist. Parents are taught home family meal routines including seating arrangement, how to make a food hierarchy, and commit to a time/meal to carry over the activities at home.

What can a parent do to find out more?

Parents who are interested in feeding groups should talk to their doctor about a referral for a feeding evaluation. They can then talk to the evaluating therapist about getting into a feeding group. If the child is currently receiving individual feeding therapy at Special Kids, parents can talk to their child’s therapist about whether they are a good candidate for group feeding therapy.

To learn more, below are recommended references:

References and the information above is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace physician and/or feeding therapy treatment(s).