One of the first lessons we learn at the dinner table as children is that we should not play with our food. While this might be the case for some children, playing with food can be a valuable exercise in pediatric occupational therapy. You might wonder if playing with food can actually help in occupational therapy, but there are many different skills that a child can build by playing with their food (believe it or not!).
Playing with food can help sensory issues
For children who experience sensory issues or sensory processing disorder (SPD) or who are on the autism spectrum, trying new foods can be a difficult process. To help resolve food aversions and introduce new foods, pediatric occupational therapy can be extremely helpful. One way to improve sensory issues surrounding food is by allowing children to play with it.
Children with sensory issues are particularly prone to having problems with eating certain foods. If a child is particularly sensitive (or “hypersensitive”), they will likely avoid foods with strong smells or tastes, as well as foods that have distinct textures. If a child is on the opposite end of the spectrum (or “hyposensitive”), they will be more drawn to the spicy foods that provide more sensory stimulation.
How can playing with food help?
Playing with food can be a helpful method in feeding therapy or occupational therapy for several reasons.
Fun environments = better learning environments. For most children, it can be more fun to learn in the form of a game. It can also be easier for some children to learn new behaviors in a less stressful or structured setting (such as with a game). One example might be playing a game and making different shapes or different animals out of their fruit.
It allows the child to work through texture issues. Many children with sensory issues exhibit food aversions towards foods with “strange” textures. In occupational therapy, this behavior may also be referred to as “tactile defensiveness.” If your child is having issues with squishy textures, such as oatmeal or yogurt, you might have them “paint” with this food. This method will expose them more to the texture, perhaps decreasing their level of aversion to that texture.
It creates a positive association with the food. Many children with sensory issues have a negative connotation with certain foods. By introducing fun activities into meal time, parents and occupational therapists can help children associate eating with positive memories.
These are just a few tips to get you thinking, but there is certainly room to get creative with activities here!
Would you like to learn more about feeding therapy or occupational therapy in Chicago?
Contact Chicago Occupational Therapy or call (773) 980-0300 to learn more about our services for children, including applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.