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MEAHLS serve up support

Published 12th June, 2017
A new service offered by Therapy Focus is providing additional support for people with disabilities who experience issues when eating and drinking.

An interdisciplinary group of Therapy Focus speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dietitians and psychologists known as the MEAHLS Team work closely with families and other therapists to implement strategies that address feeding concerns.

Team Leader Julie Tan said the MEAHLS Team provide specialist advice, evaluation and treatment for issues such as food refusal, nutritional deficiencies, mealtime tantrums and poor sucking, chewing and swallowing.

“The nature of eating and drinking difficulties is so diverse. Eating involves interest in food, muscular coordination, physiological functions, sensory processes and social experiences,” Julie said.

“If the digestive system is not functioning correctly there may not be sensations of being hungry and full. And strong reactions to foods can mean different tastes, smells or textures that are problematic.”

18-year-old Rachael Fan was referred to the MEAHLS Team after her appetite and interest in food decreased suddenly. Rachael’s Mum, Antoinette said that her daughter was a happy, independent teenager with a healthy appetite, until two years ago when she started bowing her head, lost motivation and her appetite.

“I would put food on the table and four hours later it would still be there. I was very worried about her health.” Antoinette said.

“Sometimes she eats but it’s a real challenge for me. I do everything I can. She only likes things with lots of liquid, so I make mashed potato with lots of milk and smoothies with lots of ingredients blended finely. I’ve also tried miso soup with a little rice, but she doesn’t like to chew and will remove bits and pieces.”

“We saw a number of specialists including a psychiatrist, psychologist, neurologist and ear nose and throat specialist, but so far we have not found a cause or solution to the problems.”

Julie said navigating the wide range of services available can be a challenge for families, especially when problems are developed in adulthood.

“There can be multiple professionals and agencies involved in treating these sorts of issues, and families often find it very confusing and extremely difficult to manage. For young adults like Rachael, who has not utilised disability services from birth, it can be particularly challenging as there’s no paediatrician or appropriate consultant to provide a complete overview of her medical history.”

“The MEAHLS Team was developed exactly for this reason; to coordinate input from the allied health team and other agencies in order to target support and ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.”

Following the initial intake meeting, the MEAHLS Team is now developing strategies that the Fan family and Rachael’s broader therapy team can implement to address concerns.

“Having a number of therapists in the initial meeting is an effective way to get everyone on the same page quickly,” Julie said.

“We’ve started to build a profile of Rachael from the perspective of each discipline, whilst consulting the reports of others who have assessed Rachael over the years. This will help us take a holistic, broad-spectrum approach to what might be causing the issues for Rachael, and how best to address them.”

For more information about Therapy Focus and the MEAHLS Team call 1300 135 373 or email

Pictured: Antoinette Lim (L) with Therapy Focus MEAHLS Team Leader, Julie Tan (R).

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