Media Contact: Barbara Fornasiero, EAFocus Communications; firstname.lastname@example.org; 248.260.8466; Melanie Esland, LifeLab Kids; Melanie.Esland@LifeLabKids.Org; 248-635-5102
Ferndale, Mich. — February 21, 2023 — LifeLab Kids, a Ferndale-based nonprofit center offering therapy, recreation, skill development, and creative outlets for children with disabilities from 18 months to young adult, offers one of the few comprehensive feeding therapy programs in the region. According to Kelsey Orlando, M.S., CCC-SLP, a speech and language pathologist who leads the program, successful feeding therapy goes far beyond food, given eating’s essential role in growth and development.
“We work closely with patients and their families to determine the source of the child’s difficulties and develop specific therapies to make eating more accessible and enjoyable. It’s not just about specific foods, though, it’s about comprehensive oral and nutritional care,” Orlando said. “Our therapists engage with children to work through their sensory feeding deficits and encourage them to learn about their bodies and food to develop a healthy diet while expanding their food choices.”
Orlando explains that feeding therapy actually comprises two stages: transferring food from the plate to the mouth and then the physical and muscle aspects related to eating and getting food from the mouth to the stomach. LifeLab Kids deals with a variety of children’s eating challenges, from a hyper-sensitive gag reflex, difficulty chewing or swallowing, or drinking from a bottle, cup or straw for children who need to be tube-fed or help transitioning to oral feeding. Unlike most of their therapies, which begin for children aged 18 months or older, LifeLab Kids also treats infants in its feeding therapy program.
The feeding team consists of speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists taking an integrative approach by tailoring client-centered treatment. The therapists use behavioral and child-directed methods driven by the Sequential-Oral Sensory (SOS), Talk Tools, and Beckman Oral Motor approaches to address the whole child in feeding therapy.
Demand for feeding therapy at LifeLab Kids is high, and extends to children without developmental disabilities who are experiencing feeding challenges. The goals of the program are to:
- Improve a child’s ability to chew and swallow a variety of foods and textures safely.
- Promote self-feeding and increase oral intake while reducing tube feedings, gagging while swallowing, and disruptive behaviors during meal time.
- Increase weight gain.
- Help children become active in strengthening their whole bodies through food.
- Promote self-confidence in a fun and active way.
- Promote independence.
- Encourage healthy eating.
Benefits to the child, in addition to the above, include decreased frustration and an improved ability to communicate. Orlando provides the story of a toddler, “M” who was only eating pureed food, resulting in weight below a healthy level and a failure to thrive diagnosis. Following an evaluation at LifeLab Kids, it was discovered that M had low tone in his jaw and tongue, making chewing and swallowing difficult.
“M worked very hard in feeding therapy, and with his therapist’s intervention, learned the skills to strengthen the tone in his mouth through play, with games using solid, healthy food and encouragement to explore new foods as well,” Orlando said. “After 18 months, M started to gain the skills to chew solid food. With the teamwork of his family and therapists, he increased his daily caloric intake and ultimately gained weight. M is now at a healthy weight for his age and is on a traditional hard and soft diet, with occasional modifications, that is filled with so many yummy foods! It’s exciting to watch him find food fun.”
In order to expand its feeding therapy services to meet demand, LifeLab Kids, which is based in a former Ferndale church, is raising funds to transform and enlarge its current, traditionally- designed kitchen into a space that is better able to meet the accessibility needs of the children LifeLab Kids serves and allow them to build healthy nutrition habits.
“We have all the therapy tools for success. With a reconfigured kitchen, we’ll have a group kitchen environment designed specifically for children with developmental disabilities and accessible for those with mobility difficulties,” Orlando said. “Plus, the kitchen will be functional to teach life skills, equipped with audio and visuals to aid with therapy and education and allow us to host community seminars or train other professionals seeking feeding certifications.”
About LifeLab Kids
Founded in Ferndale, Michigan in 2019, with a second location in Clinton Township, LifeLab Kids is an immersive therapeutic, recreation, and learning center that provides unique, comprehensive and individualized programming to help differently-abled youth and their families be healthy and active – and to belong. Empowering these individuals to see past their limitations and lead full lives, the 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization brings a multidisciplinary team together under one roof to collectively work with students to discover their strengths and engage in their passions. Learn more at www.lifelabkids.org.
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