Eating Resources For Those With Developmental Disabilities
Developmental disabilities are a group of chronic conditions related to either mental or physical impairments. They are called “developmental” disabilities because they usually manifest themselves while a child is young, in their early stages of development. A recent study showed that 1 in 6 kids between the ages of 3-17 had a developmental disability, and that diagnosis rates are increasing with time.
Developmental Disabilities can have serious implications throughout one’s lifetime, especially when it comes to “language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living” . Although every developmental disability is different, and every individual’s situation is unique, one thing they all have in common is an increased potential for eating difficulties. These eating difficulties have many sources, a few of which are: decreased muscle control, the inability to self feed, sensory issues, and not being able to communicate food preferences or feelings of hunger.
Soft, nutritious, and appealing looking foods can be key to helping those with developmental disabilities enjoy mealtime and, in turn, improve their nutrition and quality of life.
Eating Difficulties Are Common Among All Developmental Disabilities:
Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder which results from having three copies of chromosome 21, instead of the usual 2 copies. According to the CDC, It is the most common chromosomal disorder in the United States, affecting 1 in every 700 babies.
Those with Down Syndrome usually present with distinct facial features and are generally shorter in stature. Development milestones, like learning to talk or walking, are typically delayed. Mild or moderate mental impairment is common. Down Syndrome is also associated with an increased risk of eye problems, hearing loss, sleep apnea, and congential heart defects. Through modern medicine and increased awareness, individuals with Down Syndrome can lead happy, productive lives, receive educations, achieve levels of self sufficiency, and have an expected life span of up to 60 years.
Eating difficulties are common with Down Syndrome, especially with infants and toddlers. Some of these difficulties are caused by low muscle tone, sensory problems, food refusal, low endurance, and delayed oral motor skill development. Those with Down Syndrome commonly have delayed tooth development as well as as an undersized maxilla, both of which can make it difficult to chew.
Your Goals When Preparing Meals For Those With Developmental Disabilities:
- Cook three meals a day and provide healthy snacks in between meals
- Try to have a variety of foods at each meal. Being able to choose which foods to eat is an opportunity to develop feeding independence and can give you some ideas of their food preferences.
- Try to provide a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein as dietary restrictions allow.
- ChooseMyPlate.gov is a great resource for creating a balanced diet!
- Talk with your physician and dietitian about the specific nutritional needs of the individual you are caring for.
- Eat together as a family whenever possible. Meal times are a great opportunity to strengthen social and family relationships. Eating with others is generally a more positive experience than eating by yourself.
- Try to make meals stress free and positive. Pressuring, yelling, or forcing individuals to eat could potentially lead to negative associations with meal time, and in turn eating. One study showed that the less pressure children received to eat, the more they enjoyed their food.
Easy-To-Chew is a food blog created by a dentist, a public health professional, and a registered dietitian. Their mission? To cook up delicious recipes dedicated to those who are in need of foods which are easy to chew, easy to swallow, and easy to love!
Some More Easy To Chew Recipes
Helpful Cooking Appliances When Cooking For Those With Developmental Disabilities
A crock pot is a simple way to prepare meals in advance. Cooking foods, especially meats, at controlled temperatures for long periods of time makes them easy to chew and delicious!
There is no finer way to puree foods than a Vitamix Blender. It can turn any food into a single, smooth texture which is easy to swallow.
A food processor is a must have for finely chopping, slicing, and pureeing foods. It does all the work for you, which is especially helpful if your age or health status limits your ability to chop and slice foods by hand.