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Ted (6) didn’t eat any food until he was about 10 months old.

It put enormous stress on his mother Cheryl, who like many parents, didn’t realise how scary the concept of ‘eating’ can be for young children.

In fact, mealtimes can be one of the most challenging tasks for families with typically developing children and children with developmental disabilities.

While most of us think of eating as a two-step process of ‘see food, eat food’, it can involve more than 32 steps and is the most complex thing we do as humans.

It is the only thing that involves all of our sensory systems, organs, muscles and learning history.

“Ted didn’t any food until he was about 10 months. He had a really strong gag reflex and had some food allergies that made him vomit a lot,” Cheryl said.

“We’d seen a few different speech therapists to help him with his eating along the way, but food school was probably the best education we got as a family to understand what the functional problems might be and how we can approach food in a completely different way.”

Ted practising mouth exercises at food school.

Based at AnglicareSA’s Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centre, food school works with children with feeding difficulties to make mealtime a fun and safe experience.

The program is based on the SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) approach to eating, developed in the US by a team of psychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists and nutritionists.  

At food school, AnglicareSA’s specially-trained occupational therapists and speech pathologists present the children with foods (and drinks), transitioning them through various aspects of play.

Children start by tolerating various foods in their space and slowly build to interacting with, touching it and eventually tasting it. This involves activities from balancing fruit on their nose and tongue, to playing tug-of-war with lolly snakes between their own hand and mouth.

While the unique methods of SOS can go against conventional wisdom, it is the only results-driven feeding program with 30 years of proven clinical experience.

Ted and sister Lauren getting comfortable with some new foods, in this case a vege chip.

Not only does the program support children grow with their ability to actually interact with food – it empowers parents to be able to implement certain strategies at home.

“We just think that it’s a really effective way of learning about eating,” Cheryl said.

“Ted’s amazing now – he will try new things and not really have a problem with that. It’s a completely less stressful experience eating at home as a family now.”

In the no pressure environment of food school, Ted’s family and others learn that eating does not simply begin with the mouth and that mealtimes are opportunities to learn and explore.

AnglicareSA’s food school will be running in the upcoming Spring school holidays (September 26 – October 11). For more information or to enroll, please email [email protected].