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Strategies for sensory based eating difficulties

The reason for eating difficulties can vary greatly. It may relate to low muscle tone, the ability to sit and maintain balance, issues with swallowing, difficulties with crossing midline or using both sides of the body. It could also be psychological relating to episodes of choking, gagging or intrusive feeding interventions such as a naso-gastro tube.

It is important any underlying medical issues are explored fully before suggesting it is a sensory-based difficulty. If the child is known to still regularly choke, gag or present with any other swallow or breathing related difficulty, then it is advised that a medical professional should be involved to rule out any mechanical feeding issues.

“Parent and professionals working with children are responsible for preparing and providing a balanced meal at an appropriate scheduled time. The child is solely responsible for whether they eat and how much they eat.” (Satter, 1987 as cited in Just Take a Bite, pg.38).




A child with poor proprioceptive processing may find it difficult to sit still; they may not know where their body is in space. It could cause difficulties with controlling the jaw, grading how hard to bite or chew, with using cutlery efficiently and accurately, maintaining position and controlled eating (may be really messy).


Vestibular (movement)

A child with vestibular sensory differences may find it difficult to know if they are moving, or even when they are stationary. The child may need to concentrate to maintain balance or they may slouch to support them sitting. Furthermore, a child with vestibular sensory differences may have difficulties controlling posture in seating while being expected to use a knife and fork together with accuracy.



The child with tactile sensory differences may have food on their face, be very messy when eating, not realise they have dropped something, seek to put their hands in everything, avoid touching food directly, open their mouth wide to avoid touching the lips and wipe food from hands and mouth very quickly- often using firm pressure. Children may gag on certain foods types, especially lumpy foods, which should be investigated further.


Taste/ Smell

The child who has taste or smell difficulties may either seek out or avoid strong smells and tastes.



Understanding Your Baby’s Sensory Signals (2014), Angie, V.

Just Take a Bite (2004), Ernsperge, L., Stegen-Hanson, T.