Parents and caregivers of children who will not eat are faced with a difficult and often puzzling challenge. Because the interplay between a child’s experience of food and their ability to eat it can be complicated, there is rarely an easy solution when a feeding problem arises. Developed over 30 years ago by Dr. Kay Toomey, the SOS Approach to Feeding program is an effective way to assess and address problematic feeding behaviors in a variety of settings and populations.
In the SOS Approach, the feeding problem is conceptualized as the tip of an iceberg. The child’s difficulties with eating and gaining weight is what everybody sees, but similar to an iceberg, it is what is under the water that crashes the boat. The SOS Approach to Feeding stands for Sequential-Oral-Sensory because these are the major components of the program. However, SOS also stands for Save Our Ship! In the SOS Approach to Feeding, we assess and address all of the underlying (“under the water”) causes of the feeding difficulties. SOS uses a transdisciplinary team (Pediatricians, Occupational Therapists, Registered Dietitians, and Speech Pathologists/Therapists) to evaluate and treat the “whole child” including:
Muscles (including oral motor)
Learning, behavior, and cognition
SOS uses Play with a Purpose, the Steps to Eating, and Research to guide therapy.
We Play with a Purpose
Based on and grounded philosophically in the “normal” developmental steps, stages and skills of feeding found in typically developing children, the SOS Approach focuses on increasing a child’s comfort level by exploring and learning about the different properties of food. The program allows a child to interact with food in a playful, non-stressful way, beginning with the ability to tolerate the food in the room and in front of him/her, then moving on to managing the smell of the foods, learning about how foods feel on the body and in their mouth, and then enjoying tasting and eating new foods following the Steps to Eating.
There are six major “Steps to Eating” – Eating does not begin at the mouth!
First, we must tolerate the physical presence or the look of the food. This might even include just being in the same room as the food. Then, perhaps, we can interact with the food without directly touching the food to your skin, maybe by using a kitchen utensil like a mini food chopper or a fork. Next, our body needs to process and manage the smell or odor of a food. The play then expands to include touching the food with your fingers, hands, body, and mouth. Think about that baby first learning to eat! Tasting comes next, which might look like quickly poking the food with the tip of your tongue, or maybe putting the food in your mouth, and spitting it out. Finally, we are ready to practice chewing and swallowing.
The SOS Approach to Feeding program is Evidence-Based
There are 122 research studies and scholarly publications that provide the foundational information about feeding development and the unique challenges faced by children with feeding and eating difficulties that are directly discussed in our SOS Training Conference.
There are an additional 90 research studies/publications which support the specific techniques and strategies implemented in the SOS Approach to Feeding therapy sessions and general treatment strategies.
We have 14 studies that directly involve the SOS Approach to Feeding Therapy program and which provide evidence for the Program’s effectiveness when used correctly.
Over the years, over 600 research studies and scholarly publications have been included as a part of the SOS Approach to Feeding program development, and in its ongoing evolution which is based on the evidence for best practices in the field.