Do you feel calmer and more grounded when you eat crunchy foods or have a warm drink? Or, perhaps you find yourself more focused after you've worked out or more attentive in a meeting while twiddling with a fidget. These are all examples of using sensory experiences to make our day more manageable. How our brain understands sensory input (e.g., movement, touch, hearing, smell, taste and vision) is called sensory processing. If a child consistently has difficulties processing information, they may have a sensory processing disorder.
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD): SPD is a sensory disorder of the brain that is common enough to affect one in twenty people. It is most prevalent in children who are in gifted programs as well as children diagnosed with Autism and ADHD. In my clinical experience, most of the children I have worked with who have SPD also have difficulties with feeding, swallowing and mealtime routines. This is due to the fact that sensory processing is the foundation for learning about new foods! Below are some recommended products + ideas to make mealtime more manageable for kiddos with SPD.
Touch: In feeding therapy, I have been using the ezpz Mushroom Sponge for my kiddos with touch sensory challenges. The Mushroom Sponge is actually a cleaning sponge, but since it suctions to the table and feels soothing to their hands (due to the silicone sensory bristles) my kiddos with SPD love having it at mealtime. I’ve used this sensory product to help children increase mealtime attention, decrease anxiety about new foods, and reduce tantrums at the table. Score!
Hearing: Many children with SPD have sensory overload when it comes to sounds in their eating environment. Some kiddos have explained that the sound of metal utensils on dishware disrupts their concentration, which makes them less likely to try new foods. That is why I recommend the ezpz Mini Utensils, which are made of soft silicone and nylon that are quiet and calming compared to metal.
Smell: A lot of the children I work with that have SPD have an overactive sense of smell. These kiddos tend to cope with the smells of smoothies, shakes, green juices and flavored water better when they drink from a straw cup (instead of an open cup). They perform well with the ezpz Mini Cup + Straw Training System. The Mini Straw has sensory bumps that provide tactile cues to round their lips, and the silicone lid reduces the smell of the liquid.
Taste: If you have a child that always says, “I don’t like it” when they have a tiny taste of a new food, they may be tasting the plastic or metal from your dishware. A lot of kiddos with SPD are ‘supertasters’ and thus prefer to eat out of glass or silicone. Since glassware can be dangerous for children, I offer bowls made of safe silicone such as the Mini Bowl (8 oz) or Happy Bowl (12 oz) to help encourage them to try new foods.
Vision: Clinically, I find that children with SPD tend to have decreased behaviors and eat more when they visually see their foods separated on a divided plate. The ezpz Mini Mat (smaller plate) and Happy Mat (larger plate) have built in sections to keep a child's favorite foods from touching new foods. These mats also suction to the table, which decreases mealtime tantrums and plate throwing. Plus, the happy face design makes food more fun for a hesitant eater. Made from food grade silicone, the Mini Mat and Happy Mat give children with SPD a mealtime experience with a smile!