Now that school is in full swing it means that cafeterias around the country are serving up their weekly fare. Even for the most versatile eater, school menus can sometimes be a challenge, but for many children with special needs, the whole lunchroom scene is a meltdown disaster waiting to happen! If you have a picky eater and/or a child with sensory defensiveness here are a few tips that may help make mealtimes go smoother:
- Give the child 5-10 minutes of “prep” time before lunch/meals for deep touch pressure input through the face, mouth and even shoulder area. Use a low intensity vibration chewy such as the Jiggler series, chew on a piece of sugar free bubble gum, or practice for a few minutes with an oral activity such as a blow toy or whistle. Wheelbarrow walks, “chair” push-ups, and/or other upper extremity weight bearing activities may also help with calming/organizing before the transition to the cafeteria.
- Use a visual schedule and if possible post the menu with pictures for the day so the child knows ahead of time what will be served.
- If the cafeteria has enough natural light, find out if turning out the fluorescent lights would be an option while the child is having lunch. Many children, especially those with SPD issues may be overly sensitive to this type of lighting. Filtered light such as using the Cozy Shades may also be an option.
- Try a small buddy/social group that the child can eat with. In the schools where I worked, the speech therapist often facilitated a lunch bunch group to work on social, as well as sensory issues during mealtimes.
- Avoid foods initially that use combined textures such as vegetable soup, chunky peanut butter etc. as this makes it more challenging for a child with oral/sensory issues to handle.
For additional suggestions check out the reference book Just Take a Bite. Happy Eating!