How Pediatric Feeding Therapy Works

wecreate / June 18, 2024
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Feeding and growth issues in children are more common than you might think. In 2016, worldwide trends of children between 5 and 19 years of age had 75 million girls and 117 million boys moderately or severely underweight. Meanwhile, 50 million girls and 74 million boys were obese. That puts approximately 25% and 35% of children struggling with a feeding or growth issue on average at some point during the first ten years of their lives. Out of that number, only about one-third to one-half will grow out of their eating habits within a 2-3 year span of time.


Mind & Motion offers a solution to children suffering from feeding difficulties by offering pediatric feeding therapy with the SOS approach. Our occupational and speech therapists can help craft a plan of care designed to increase the variety of foods a child will eat all while decreasing parental stress at mealtime. Take a look at how this approach to pediatric feeding therapy works to address eating difficulties.

What is the SOS Approach to Feeding?

The SOS approach is the Sequential-Oral-Sensory approach, as those are the major components of the process addressed in therapy. It works well with the more traditional Save Our Ship concept, as the program is designed to address the underlying problems, problems under the water, of feeding difficulties.


Think of a child’s feeding problems like an iceberg that is mostly submerged underwater, Above the waves is the feeding problem itself. Under the water, however, lies a variety of factors that could contribute to the overall feeding problem that need to be addressed. These factors include the following.


  • Organ systems
  • Oral motor muscles and other muscles
  • Sensory processing
  • Learning, cognition, and behavioral attributes
  • Nutrition
  • Developmental milestones
  • Environmental factors

The Six Steps to Eating

When thinking of how to address eating problems, we must consider the details of the actual eating process. Turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than putting food in the mouth and swallowing. It contains six essential steps that everyone must complete.

The Physical Presence

The first step is being in the physical presence of the food. This is most often expressed by the look of the food, but some children may even have trouble knowingly being in the same room as certain foods even if they cannot see it directly. 

Indirect Interaction

The next step is interacting with the food, albeit not with direct contact with the skin. This is expressed most often with a kitchen utensil like a fork.

The Smell

It’s not uncommon for some adults to be put off at step three, but it can be especially difficult for some children. The smell of the food plays a major role in the eating process since it is so closely related to the taste sensation that comes much later.

Direct Interaction

When one gets past the smell, it’s time to interact directly with the food, which means contact with the skin. This does not necessarily mean touching it with your hands, as it’s a necessary step to touch it with your mouth no matter what the food is. 

The Taste

The tasting step is not always followed by chewing and swallowing. In fact, children with feeding difficulties may taste food by simply poking it with the tip of their tongue first. Others may put the food in their mouth then spit it out. 

Chewing and Swallowing

The last step is finally chewing and swallowing. If one can reach and complete the last step without issue, then that particular food is no longer a problem. A lot of the therapy involves practicing each of these steps with a wide variety of different foods.

A Therapeutic Approach

To overcome feeding difficulties, the SOS approach allows children to follow typical developmental steps and skills of feeding in a comfortable environment. This non-stressful environment allows children to interact with food without having the pressure of being expected to eat. Children learn about the properties of food in a non-stressful setting beginning with the first step of eating and moving forwards when they are ready. This approach helps remove the barriers some children have to eating and helps make eating and trying new foods an exciting experience rather than an intimidating one.

Over 30 Years of Evidence

The SOS approach to pediatric feeding therapy was developed more than three decades ago by Dr. Kay Toomey, and it has been studied ever since. In all that time, there have been more than 600 research studies and scholarly publications that have contributed to the development of the SOS approach. These studies have not only demonstrated the efficacy of this approach but offered insight into how it can evolve to be more effective when applied in therapy sessions. 


By measuring the number of different types of food in a child’s diet history before and after feeding therapy, we can directly see how well the approach is working. From initial evaluation to the end of 12 weeks of feeding therapy, we have seen an average increase in the variety of different foods by 126% or an expansion of 19 foods at evaluation to 43 foods at the 12 week mark.

Start Pediatric Feeding Therapy for Children in Atlanta

Mind & Motion is a developmental center conveniently located in Atlanta, Georgia that offers pediatric feeding therapy in addition to a range of other treatments like physical therapy and speech therapy. Since 2014, we have been working to enhance the developmental potential of every child, and pediatric feeding therapy is offered exclusively on-site. 


If your child is suffering from feeding difficulties, contact our team today to schedule an initial consultation and begin an evidence-based approach to therapeutic treatment.


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