Chewing and Eating Problems in Middle and High School.

eating, high school, middle school

If a child has had a chewing and eating problem or won’t eat lunches in primary school, the issues may well continue on in the middle school or high school years.

​Sometimes the issues become more of a concern as children enter high school when large growth spurts are expected and peer reactions become more important to the child. If they are only eating soft foods or have sensory feeding issues it can be hard for them to socialise or fellow students may “tease” then how long it takes for them to eat anything. This is why many high school students with eating problems will see a speech pathologist that works with this age group. Older high school children with history of disability or diagnosis (e.g., Down’s syndrome or autism may in fact be in a readier state to benefit from oro-motor or eating therapy.

“Eating disorders” can be something different.

A Speech pathologist generally works with eating problems as opposed the more commonly known “eating disorders”. Eating disorders include anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These are serious mental illnesses with onset commonly during the early high school years. They require specialized treatment and a Medical consult is strongly recommended if any such concerns arise.

Eating Problems in High School can be sensory.

Sensory issues can include strong reactions to tastes and smells that can reduce a person’s ability or willingness to eat foods. Even noisy or disruptive environments, such as eating malls and school yard areas in impact on some high school students making eating a problem for them. Moving from primary to high school environments may be stressful for some children. Some children that have been able to stabilise their sensory issues in the known primary environments may no longer be able to cope in the new high school environments. If there are other stresses (social and learning) their sensory issues may also heighten.

​Children on some medications (e.g., hyperactivity medications) can lose appetite and this coupled with slow or restricted sensory food choices may make it difficult for them to consume sufficient nutrition to maintain health and growth.

Eating Problems in High School can be related to Oro-motor or Chewing Concerns

High school students have reported that it can take them up to 1.5 to 2 hours to complete a meal. High school students frequently have large study and extra curriculum commitment. Meals that are taking extra-ordinary amounts of time to consume (to meet the growth spurts of an adolescent) can cause stress on the family and impact on achievements.

Persistent Immature Chew

If a child or high school student is taking a long time to eat they may not be chewing effectively. This results in what is called a delayed oral phase of the eating process. If an up-down movement of the jaw is still being used then it can be impossible or very difficult for a child to grid up food in order to eat it. In this vertical chewing pattern, the jaw moves up and down in a vertical motion. Since the tongue and jaw are connected, the tongue will follow suit, also moving up and down (“tongue pump”). They may not have established the more mature a rotary chew movement. This is where the chew moves slightly side to side as well as up and down to grind foods.

Reduced ability to form a food bolus

Another issue often seen in older high school students with feeding problems is restricted tongue movements. They may not be moving their tongues to side (later tongue movements) to gather food into a small ball (bolus) to get it ready for a swallow. The food remains scatter all over the tongue and mouth requiring several swallows to clear every mouthful. This can extend mealtimes to the point that it is not functional for the student or family. They may also just say the like a particular food. These foods may be the ones that are easy to eat.

SpeechNet Speech Pathology within the Brisbane Feeding Clinic is experienced in working with the older high school student with feeding problems. They can provide assessments to determine if there are any underlying sensory or oro-motor difficulties that can be addressed to assist with meal-time management.  Contact us today we're here to help!

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