For 14 year-old Henry, mealtimes were once a source a stress and anxiety. His very restricted diet meant that he was gaining weight and delays in his oral-motor skills affected his ability to eat foods safely.
Henry’s family wanted to help Henry enjoy meals and increase the amount of food he ate at the dinner table, so they enlisted the support of Henry’s therapy team and the specialist mealtime clinicians at Therapy Focus.
Following a comprehensive assessment, a mealtime management plan was created to provide Henry with the support he needed. Advanced Speech Pathologist, Ophelia Reid explained that a large part of this plan included sensory regulation preparation before mealtimes.
“Henry will listen to his favourite music, swing on his hammock, then spend time with his Mum enjoying Thera-pressure brushing and washing his hands for dinner,” Ophelia said.
“Then he will sit at the table and drink his preferred fizzy drink to help stimulate the sensations in his mouth. This ensures Henry feels prepared, regulated and less anxious when he sits down at the dinner table.”
Henry’s therapy team also suggested breaking down mealtimes into sections to help Henry stay regulated throughout mealtimes.
“Rather than asking Henry to stay seated for half an hour, Henry will eat at the table for 10-15 minute increments, with a sensory regulation/reward break in the middle.”
“This might be lying in the hammock swing, playing his favourite game on the iPad, or getting up and walking outside. A timer also helps Henry understand the structure of mealtimes,” Ophelia said.
In addition to regulation strategies, Henry was prescribed a specialised seating system to help him sit comfortably at the table and works closely with dietitian, Claire Breen, to ensure he is getting the right nutrients in his diet.
“I assess and monitor the types of foods Henry is eating and provide advice and meal plans that accommodate Henry’s needs,” Claire said.
“I also work alongside Henry’s Speech Pathologist, Ophelia, to help Henry develop his oral-motor skills. This has helped reduce Henry’s fear around challenging foods and helped make mealtimes safer and more comfortable.”
To his family’s delight, Henry is now able to sit at the dinner table and enjoy mealtimes. While his favourite music is plays in the background, he is able to engage socially with his family and eat with less anxiety.
The next step in Henry’s therapy journey is to ensure that meals at school are also a positive experience when he transitions to high school.