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Is your child a picky eater? Pickiness is common in all children. Food selectivity isn’t.

Feeding Therapy, or Feeding Intervention programs are developed for children who show signs of food selectivity and designed to expand their food repertoires, volume, texture, and other food-related problems. Picky eating can be cause for concern when children do not receive the nutrients they need to thrive.

Research shows that food selectivity often fails to resolve without intervention. Research indicates that the sooner an intervention can occur, the more likely good eating habits will be established and last.

Feeding Therapy | Healthy Beginnings

Key identifiers of food selectivity:

  • Limited variety of food
  • Limited types of texture
  • Not eating enough
  • Gagging when given a new food
  • Vomiting when given a new food
  • Refusal of foods
  • Inappropriate mealtime behavior

Family coordination is incorporated and treatment is generalized to the home environment, for an end goal of accepting a variety of food, eating together with the family, and increasing the overall nutritional value of meals.

Learn more about how family involvement in this therapy is crucial to the effectiveness of treatment.

Areas targeted within a feeding program:

  • Expanding food and liquid variety
  • Chewing
  • Self-feeding
  • Increasing Volume
  • Use of utensils
  • Reduction of vomiting
  • Cup drinking

Meet the Feeding Team!

Ben SarciaBen Sarcia, M.A., BCBA, LBA

Director of Feeding Therapy Services

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Penn State University and my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from West Chester University. During my time as a graduate student, I interned at Southeastern Pennsylvania Autism Resource Center (SPARC) in West Chester, Pennsylvania. It was at this time that I became very involved in the treatment of pediatric feeding disorders. After obtaining my certification in behavior analysis (BCBA) in 2014, I began working in the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Continuum at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. It was here that I was able to gain experience working with children with feeding disorders in an inpatient setting and I also was given the opportunity to conduct and publish research related to the treatment of food selectivity. In 2016 I joined the team at the Verbal Beginnings Center and since that time I’ve been able to serve families that perhaps otherwise wouldn’t have been able to participate in this type of therapy, given the demands of most treatment programs. I’ve had the opportunity to work with children from age 18 months to as old as 18 years, picky eaters to 100% feeding tube dependent, and even with children who had never learned how to chew. Our team is eager to work with your child and family to develop lifelong healthy eating behavior!

Ahra JungAhra Jung, B.S., RBT

Healthy Beginnings Coordinator

I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Stevenson University in Baltimore, Maryland. As an undergraduate student I interned at Kennedy Krieger Institute on the Neurobehavioral Unit (NBU) working with individuals with autism. During my time as an intern, I was first exposed to ABA and saw the positive impact it had on the lives of those individuals and their families. From that moment on my initial plans to focus on counseling immediately shifted and I was determined to learn more about ABA in hopes that I could make a positive impact for those families seeking services. Since 2010, I have been working full-time at KKI on the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Unit working with children with various feeding disorders such as liquid dependency or food selectivity. In October of 2021 I will be starting my Masters program in Special Education (Applied Behavior Analysis) with the hopes of becoming a BCBA. I hope to be able to use my experiences and knowledge I have gained to help build an enjoyable eating experience for both the children and the families we serve!

Why doesn’t my child eat?

Feeding disorders are common among children with developmental disabilities, as well as children considered to be typically developing. While we may never truly know why your child avoids certain foods, selectivity and refusal may have been related to a prior medical condition. Often times the medical issue may no longer be occurring, but the behavior (refusing certain foods) persists. Additionally, food refusal is a common feature of autism spectrum disorder and was originally a part of the diagnostic criteria. As behavior analysts, we seek to identify the consequences maintaining food refusal in order to develop a plan to promote healthy eating.

Is my child too old for feeding therapy?

No. We work with children from age 18 months to 18 years. It’s never too late to develop healthy eating habits through proper nutrition.

What can I expect from the Feeding Program?

Initially, a BCBA will observe and collect data on the current mealtime behavior with both caregivers and therapists in order to identify any patterns and establish a baseline (what the behavior looks like before intervention). From there, therapists will feed your child utilizing the techniques supported by empirical literature in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis. This often includes the use of reinforcement and strategies to reduce refusal at mealtime. Feeding staff have been given extensive training in all procedures and must complete specific competency assessments before they are allowed to conduct meal sessions.  

Research has demonstrated with consistent intervention food refusal will decrease, and healthier eating behavior will increase. Throughout the feeding process, it is important to remember that refusal took time to emerge and thus, appropriate mealtime behavior will also take time to develop.  

It is common for a child to respond differently to a therapist than they would respond to a caregiver, as they do not have a history with the feeding therapist. Therefore, caregiver training is an important component of any feeding therapy program.  

It is important that your child be hungry prior to feeding sessions. Therefore, we request that you do not feed your child one hour before scheduled meals. It is also important to wait an hour before feeding your child after a meal session, even if the child did not eat during that session.

What does a feeding protocol entail and what do I have to do?

An individualized protocol will be developed for your child. This protocol includes specific instructions as to what to do during meals, as well as what not to do. It is very important that any caregivers feeding your child implement the protocol the same way each time and that only caregivers that have been trained are utilizing this protocol. For the child to be successful, it is very important that caregivers are adhering to the protocol and not making any changes without communicating with the Clinical Supervisor. Often times, there are multiple components to a mealtime treatment protocol. If one of the components is implemented incorrectly or changed prematurely, it is likely that the child will identify this, which could lead to the protocol becoming ineffective. 

When should I make changes at home?

It is very important that no changes in meals are made at home until caregiver training has been conducted. This includes offering any of the new foods being targeted in feeding therapy. Doing so may slow progress. 

How do you measure progress?

Throughout treatment, data are collected and analyzed. Data collection enables us to determine how often bites are taken or refused and thus guide treatment decisions. We also collect data on treatment integrity (how well caregivers feeding the child implement the protocol) in order to determine if the protocol is being implemented correctly.  

How do I maintain the progress that my child made in your feeding program?

Stay in touch! Research has indicated that families who stay in touch with their therapy team do better. Minor setbacks related to illness can occur. Additionally, children who have made progress can sometimes temporarily take a step backwards. Therefore, communication is essential in ensuring that the protocol continues to be applied correctly, as well as determining if any changes are necessary. Before intensive feeding therapy ends, we will have you feed your child at home in order to ensure that the behavior generalizes to other environments. We will also ask you to come back periodically for follow-up appointments.  

Will you use rewards?

Our approach is to implement the least intrusive procedures needed. However, many children require some type of external reinforcement in order to motivate them to take, chew, and swallow bites of new or non-preferred foods. Therefore, we may use toys, movies, music, or games as rewards. We encourage you to communicate to us things that your child likes. If there is a reinforcer that can be saved only for mealtime, children tend to do better with feeding therapy. Throughout therapy, we will assess to determine if reinforcement is still needed or if it can be faded out of meals once compliance is increased and remains consistent. 

What do I have to do for insurance to cover feeding therapy?

If your insurance company covers ABA services for your child and your child has the ASD diagnosis, then the feeding program is covered. The feeding team will conduct an evaluation related to your child’s mealtime behavior. After a review of the results of this evaluation with the caregivers, the recommendations will be submitted to your insurance company as a request for ABA coverage for feeding therapy. The only cost to you is what your plans considers as patient responsibility. To check your plan benefits, click here.

Resources and Videos

Evidence-based feeding intervention utilizing the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one of the only interventions that has proven to be effective through research and replication. 

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