If young person is very picky with food preference, they may have difficulties with oral sensory input. They may be hypersensitive to gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell) and tactile (touch). This means that the brain is receiving too much of this particular sensory input from the sensory receptors. This can then lead to avoidance and or fight or flight behaviours.
Young people who appear to seek out proprictpive input (receptors in muscles ligament’s and joints), may seek out harder food types that require additional chewing. This also helps them to self-regulate by activating reticular formation in the brain stem and can have a calming effect on arousal levels (energy levels/ emotion). Young people presenting with hyper sensitive tactile oral receptors may avoid certain textures of foods or may not like to mix certain food types.
A young person described as a picky eater will usually require a multi-sensory therapeutic and behavioural approach. Parents are required to play a key role during intervention in the home environment. Parental approaches and secure attachment contribute to lowering stress levels and increasing child exploration.
In order for young people to learn about new food types the environment should be positive and nurturing. A constant and predictable daily meal plan often provides the backbone for treatment. Other interventions may include meal time scheduling, environmental adaption, identification of safe food types, creating intrinsic motivation around eating, task analysis and postural control.
Inclusion and exclusion criteria for intervention would be on an individual basis and an initial assessment would be required. It may be that other skills are to be taught before we can set picky eating goals and start intervention. This may include learning to sit at a table or other difficulties which may limit engagement.