MOTORING through MEALTIME
Mealtime presents many opportunities for a variety of sensory and motor skills to be developed also! A lot of kiddos with special needs struggle with “picky eating” or “problem feeding” and have a limited diet consisting of a few types of food they are comfortable consuming. Although a common problem, it is also a complex one that requires a whole other article in order to properly discuss it. Instead, let’s chat about the many opportunities to help build skills during meal preparation and actual mealtime.
Preparing the meal can be just as fun as actually eating the food! A few ideas to get kids involved are:
- Help them make “menus” for the meal. Younger kiddos can cut, color, paste pictures of selected food items, while older kiddos can copy and write words from the food containers to the menu.
- As long as it is safe…having kids help cook is a great way to work on following directions, sequencing and problem-solving. Start with simple side dishes and when possible use visuals aides-draw a quick picture of all the ingredients in a dish and have your child cross it off once they use it.
- Setting the table is a natural time to work on planning and sequencing. Counting place settings, gathering all utensils required and folding napkins are just a few activities your child can be in charge of. If he/she is younger and/or struggles with sequencing make it routine for him/her to do the same “helper job” until it is mastered.
- Carrying food items to the table is a great time to work on balance, upper extremity control, and spatial concepts. Give verbal directives on where to place the item (“put the peas on the right side of the bread”). This is also a great opportunity to help teach your child safety and management…how much should he/she carry at once, are two hands needed, what is too heavy, what may be hot and needs pot-holders or should be avoided.
- A great problem-solving activity is to purposefully leave a few items off of the table and once every one is seated for the meal, see if your child can figure out what is missing (maybe a utensil needed to scoop the veggies with).
Mealtime and eating involves a lot of fine motor and oral-motor skills that are not easy for everyone to perform gracefully! As your child learns and refines these skills, be supportive and patient. Spills and messy faces are going to happen. Show your child how to manage them in a loving manner. Scooping, cutting, spreading and passing food items can be a challenge to kids with special needs.
A few things can make these challenges easier:
- SEATING!!! Take a look at your child’s positioning in his/her chair. Do they look supported and upright? Are his/her feet on the floor? Can they easily get arms above table to reach and manipulate utensils? What happens at the hips happens at the lips! If your child is sitting comfortably and supported well in his/her chair, he/she will have an easier time getting food to the mouth and even chewing/ swallowing efficiently. If properly positioned, your child’s feet should be flat on floor with hips/knees at 90 degrees. Shoulders/arms should not have to reach too high or too far to get food items. The chair should have a supportive back on it. In order to achieve the “just right” fit use simple things like phone books, shoe boxes and rolled up towels for under feet, under the seat, and behind the back.
- Adapted dishes and utensils can make eating easier for those who have motor control difficulties. A more affordable resource for these items is www.discountschoolsupply.com #800-627-2829. Even more affordable is adapting your own utensils by adding a little weight or size to them (wrap the handles in foam, duck tape and modeling clay). Use dishes or Tupperware that have a raised edge so your child can scoop or stabilize food items against the side of the dish.
Keep in mind parents that sharing your thoughts and maybe your dessert at mealtime encourages your children to do the same… Just remember to have fun doing it!