New program helps identify if a child is a picky eater or a problem feeder

Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Initiative

It’s dinner time, and once again you look for an innovative approach to get your child to eat. Is he a picky eater or a problem feeder? The Paso Del Norte Children’s Development Center (CDC) has an answer for children with special needs.

The Paso del Norte Health Foundation (Health Foundation) awarded a $262,000 grant to the CDC for their “Off to a Good Start: Eating Our Way to a Healthy Life” program. The program will be the first in the El Paso area to support children from 12 months to five-years of age who are often malnourished due to their inability to accept or learn nutritious eating habits and to help parents who struggle to find tasty and healthy foods for them.

The ‘Off to a Good Start’ program is based on the Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) Approach to Feeding developed by Dr. Kay Toomey, a pediatric psychologist and the Clinical Director of SOS Feeding Solutions at STAR Institute. SOS is a trans-disciplinary program for assessing and treating feeding difficulties and weight/growth issues in children. It integrates posture, sensory, motor, behavioral/learning, medical and nutritional factors to assess a child’s overall feeding/growth issues. The SOS treatment component utilizes typical development steps to create a systematic desensitization level of skills and behaviors necessary for children to grow at an appropriate rate.

Children's Development Center

“Shapes, smells, textures, colors and sounds all account for a variety of reasons why children refuse to eat,” says Gilda Gil-Lopez, director of operations for CDC. “The condition stems from a behavioral rather than conditional treatment. These children don’t have a swallowing or oral motor problem – it’s an aversion that they’ve developed for some reason to food.”

Funding from Health Foundation will initially assist in SOS program training for six therapists (two occupational and four speech) and a dietician, with additional training of therapists in the community in the near future. These individuals will implement the program at CDC, conduct community presentations and develop a large-scale conference for interested parents, healthcare providers, educators and other appropriate individuals and agencies providing services to children.

Once all the elements are in place, the CDC looks at the ‘Off to a Good Start’ program to improve dietary habits and weight status of children with eating disorders or related issues, engage community stakeholders in learning more about eating disorders and increase the referral of new patients to the CDC.