If your child has been diagnosed with a feeding disorder, you may be wondering what treatment entails, and how long it will take to see improvement. Today you’ll find some insight into treatment for problem feeders so you have a better idea of what to expect.

First, what is a “problem feeder”?

Problem feeders are children who displays severe symptoms and difficulties with eating. Some of those include:

  • Restricted range/variety of foods – usually less than 20 different foods
  • Not able to reacquire foods lost due to food jags
  • Crying when presented with new foods
  • Refusing entire categories of food textures
  • Gagging or choking in response to certain foods or textures

These symptoms generally distinguishes a “picky eater” from a problem feeder. However, problem feeders must first be diagnosed as such by a Speech Pathologist to be sure.

What happens once my child has been diagnosed?

Once a child’s needs and difficulties have been evaluated by a Speech Pathologist, they will typically create or form a plan of action with a specific treatment route or a combination.

For problem feeders there are two main treatment routes speech therapists my take:


  • Chaining
  • SOS Feeding Protocol


Food Chaining

“Food chaining,” is based on the child’s natural preferences and successful eating experiences—specifically the idea that we eat what we like. Food chaining introduces new foods that have the same flavors or sensory features as foods that are already preferred by the child, increasing the likelihood that the child will like the food.

For instance, say a child likes or really loves chicken nuggets, a therapist may recommend changing the brand of the chicken nuggets, or the sizes or shapes as level one in the chain. The second level may be to introduce different flavors in sauces like barbeque, or buffalo. The third chain would continue to change texture and taste, and so on.

With every child being different, this process can vary in lengths of time with some children only accepting foods up to level two and others dropping foods that they like completely due to the changes.

During this process it’s important to follow the recommendations of the Speech Therapist to continue improvement.

SOS Feeding Protocol

SOS or Sequential Oral Sensory feeding is an approach to feeding therapy that allows Speech Therapists to engage a child with foods by encouraging them to interact with the food in different ways apart from eating. 

A therapist may encourage a child to smell the food, or squish the food in their hands, etc. in order to systematically desensitize the child to the sensations experienced when the child eats the food. This approach happens in which therapists work with the child to move up six major “Steps to Eating.” As the child moves up the steps to eating, they learn about the sensory properties of new foods, develop oral motor skills required for eating and reduce stress and emotional responses to meal times through play.

Those steps include: being able to touch the food, squeeze the food, hear the sound of someone else eating the food, etc.

These treatments are the main ways a Speech Therapist may approach feeding disorders in children. With the holidays getting closer and family dinner being a major part of them, don’t be afraid to ask your Speech Therapist what some reasonable goals may be reachable by then, and how you can continue to work with your child during the holidays.

So what next?

If you don’t already have a Speech Therapist and believe your child may be struggling with a feeding disorder, or any speech-language related difficulties, our certified Speech Pathologists and Feeding Therapists are available at the click of a button. When you request a free consultation, we’ll assess your or your child’s needs and get you connected to a Speech Pathologist for an evaluation.