Texture aversion refers to situations when a child will limit themselves to eating specific types of food. For example only crunchy or soft foods. This can apply to the types of clothing your child chooses to wear or the toys they play with. When eating, there are several sensory inputs you are taking in at once. We see it with our eyes, smell it through our nose, and taste it with our tongues but we also feel the temperature and texture of the food. Is it smooth or crunchy or multi-textural?
There are several reasons why a child can display textural aversions, especially when it comes to eating. The main reason I treat children with this is they have a sensory processing disorder. These children misinterpret information from their tactile (skin) receptors, causing them to have an overreaction to the texture. As a result, they react negatively toward the tactile input. For example, if a child touched the sand, they would react as if they had touched something terrifying or horrific. I have seen children throw up, and cry uncontrollably unable to be calmed down for hours just by touching something as simple as a sandbox. To them, it was too overwhelming. In a situation such as this, an Occupational Therapist would work on desensitization techniques, sensory processing diet, and improving tolerance to unwanted textures.
Other variables to consider are motor issues that can impact food aversions. In order to eat foods effectively, you need to be able to move your jaw, teeth, and proper tongue and lip placement. Without these movements done correctly, you can’t chew and swallow safely. This can cause a child to gag or vomit when eating new textured food. This can also create behaviors when eating as a negative association of pain and discomfort when eating occurs the child may begin to refuse to eat. A Speech and Language Pathologist referral would be recommended to assist in oral motor skills to help improve the strength and coordination required for improved eating.
Another factor to take in is if a child is in physical pain. Children should see a Pediatric Dentist to address any dental needs that can impact their ability to eat properly. If a child has cavities, they may limit the type of food they are eating as well as their chewing as a result of pain.
To assist children with sensory issues, playing with various textures allows them to get used to textures in a non-threatening way. For example, playing with Play-Doh, or slime allows children to explore textures, and get used to their smell, sight, and touch. Over time, they are more likely to try various new foods after playing with new textures in a fun way.
Have your child help cook and bake with you in the kitchen. Being a part of the process helps your child feel empowered as well as desensitizes them simultaneously. It also helps to improve their fine motor skills. You can work on measuring, cutting, and mixing as well as following multi-step processes required for cooking and baking.
You can play silly games when you are having snack time. You can play a game called “Guess the snack?” On a plate, you can put various choices, preferred and nonpreferred snacks. For example, a cracker, apple slices, sliced cucumber, cheese, sliced grapes, etc. You can close your eyes and have your child place an item in your hand. Then you have to describe how it feels, and what you think it is. If you get it right you win and you get to eat it. Starting with simple choices that your child will eat and touch and introduce only one nonpreferred choice. Over time, your child will enjoy this silly game and you can it with other family members. This is a great way to have your child touch the food and indirectly get used to it without forcing them to touch it.
Having a child with an aversion to textures is not easy. It is important to understand the underlying cause so you can properly address it. Once your child's needs are identified, you can find the correct path to the proper provider who will help your child leap over the obstacles in their way.