• Understanding Autism from the Inside

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Feeding Clinics for Autistic Children: Did you know some autistic children cannot eat solid food?

autism picky eaters

Jeannie’s grandmother always said that milk was food. For a long time, that was all she “ate” as a child.

Some children with autism cannot eat solid foods because of sensory issues in the mouth and throat, or because of GI issues.  While uncommon, this scenario exists.  The affected children can only eat pureed foods. For these children, a feeding clinic can be the best option. At the 2016 “Feeding Disorders with ASD: Selectivity, Refusal, and Inappropriate Behavior” Conference given in Lake Placid, NY I learned about the Upstate University Golisano’s Children’s Hospital’s feeding clinic. During the conference, I watched videos of the clinic’s process and their results. By the end of the treatment, many children were eating solid age-appropriate food without trouble.

What is a feeding clinic? 

A feeding clinic is a place where people can go to receive direct feeding therapy by a qualified professional. Depending on the area of need, this therapy can be administered by an Occupational Therapist (OT) and a Speech Pathologist (SLP). If the issue is with the mouth and swallowing of the food, it is likely to be the Speech Pathologist. If it is a motor issue like learning to chew or feed independently, then it could be given by an Occupational Therapist. 

How can I find out about a feeding clinic near me?

Most children’s hospitals will have feeding clinics. They don’t always advertise them that way, but they typically have the OT and SLP’s that have the background to facilitate feeding goals. As always use your primary care physician to help guide you in your search for the right type of programming for your child. 

Does it work? 

I had a student recently admitted to this clinic in Syracuse for a two week period. During that time his family resided at the Ronald McDonald house because he had clinical sessions every day.  I had the opportunity to visit while he was there and what I saw was amazing.

Each session they worked on different things. For one child, there were three clinicians in the room each recording different data and statistical information. After the first session, their data shows the child’s preference to chew on one side of his mouth 95% of the time. The next day the clinicians prompted the boy to eat on different sides of his mouth when they presented him a bite. Each session the same foods were introduced in the same order cut to the same size bites. It is important also to note that this is the only meal in his day that was not pureed. Families are asked to feed the child how they are comfortable, when outside the clinic, as to not put the child’s nutrition at risk.

After two weeks, they sent him home with a protocol to follow and return appointments scheduled. Let me be clear when he left after those two weeks, my student had made progress but the road ahead will still be long and his treatment ongoing. He will continue eating the same foods until he masters them, and the bites will be cut into small pieces. He will continue to go to the clinic for intensive therapy. And as he progresses, will acquire more skills.  I am confident in the Upstate University Golisano’s Children’s Hospital’s clinic and know it will help him to eat solid foods.

Feeding Clinics are not only for children who cannot eat solid foods.

Feeding clinics can also help those children who are very rigid about what they eat, like the boy who will only eat that specific brand of nuts. These types of issues are seen as behavioral and can be addressed in a similar manner with the oversight of a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (B.C.B.A.).

A feeding clinic may be a good option if your child has eating issues. Upstate University Golisano’s Children’s Hospital’s clinic in Syracuse is one of the few in New York State and had over a year waiting list.  However, to this family, who was at their wit’s end, the wait for an opening was worth it.

I encourage you all who are struggling with feeding issues to talk to your child’s primary physician about these types of programs in your area.

Nicole Bureau

Nicole Bureau is a Special Education Teacher and Day Care Director at the Adirondack Arc’s Children’s Corner Pre-School in Saranac Lake, NY. She has a bachelors and master’s degrees in Early Childhood Education and Special Education from SUNY Plattsburgh and works in a self-contained special needs classroom. Outside of the classroom, Nicole works for families with kids with Autism in their home. This has offered her a unique look at the life of a student with Autism not only in the classroom but also in their home environment. Nicole grew up in Lake George, NY and has enjoyed living in the mountains her whole life. Currently, Nicole has just started pursuing her School Building Leadership Master’s degree hoping to be the executive director of Children’s Corner. When she is not teaching Nicole enjoys traveling, camping, going to music concerts, hiking, and spending time with family.