What is Sensory Food Aversion and Oral Defensiveness?


You know your child is a picky eater. And after reading the last article on picky eaters, you know your child has some sensory food aversion to certain textures. But what do you do about it?

Sensory food aversion is a condition where a person has an aversion to certain textures of food. It is different than picky eating!

In the therapy world, this is called oral defensiveness.  Oral defensiveness can occur in children who also have tactile defensiveness. Both types of defensiveness are part of sensory processing disorder.

What is oral defensiveness and what can you do?

What is sensory food aversion and oral defensiveness?

Oral defensiveness is when a person has an aversion to certain textures, tastes, smells, or temperatures of food. This can make eating difficult and even painful for some people. Oral defensiveness can be caused by a variety of things such as sensory processing disorder, food allergies, or autism spectrum disorder

How do I know if my child is has a sensory food adversion and is orally defensive, or just stubborn?

There are a few signs that may indicate that your child is orally defensive. If your child gags, chokes or throws up when eating, this may be a sign that they are orally defensive. If your child has a narrow range of foods and they are mostly soft or smooth foods, this could be another sign of oral defensiveness.

Does your child have a hard time staying calm?

Is it a meltdown or a tantrum?

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What can I do to help my child with oral defensiveness?

If you think that your child may be orally defensive, there are a few things that you can do to help them. One thing that you can do is consult with a doctor or therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorder or feeding disorders. They will be able to give you specific guidance on how to best help your child.

Another thing that you can do is work on exposure with your child. This means gradually introducing new foods and textures to them in a non-threatening way. 

You can start by letting them touch or smell the food before moving on to taking small bites. It is important to go at your child’s pace and not force them to eat anything that they are not comfortable with.

If your child is still eating baby food and they are having a hard time when eating purees. I recommend making your own foods. You can vary the thickness and gradually increase it over time.  And the added benefit of the purees taste like the real foods.  

Causes of Oral Defensiveness in Children

There are a number of reasons why a child is orally defensive. Some children are born with a sensitive gag reflex, which makes them hesitant to put new things in their mouths.  Or they may have had a medical condition at birth such as a genetic condition or prematurity, which led being tube fed.  Lack of foods or objects in a baby’s mouth can increase senstivitiy later on.

Dealing with Oral Defensiveness in Children

If your child has sensory food aversion, it is best to have them evaluated by their dr, an occupational therapist who is experienced in working with children with sensory processing disorder, or a feeding clinic. They should also be evaluated for oral motor difficulites such as chewing and swallowing.

The same suggestions for navigating picky eaters apply to those with oral defensiveness. However, also remember that the issue your child has is with the food TEXTURES of certain foods. 

First, try not to force your child to eat anything they’re not comfortable with. This will only make them more resistant and less likely to want to try new things. 

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Second, offer other foods that are similar in texture to the ones your child already eats. For example, if your child likes strawberry yogurt offer them other yogurt flavors. 

Third, make mealtimes fun and relaxed instead of stressful. This will create a positive association with food and make your child more likely to want to try new things. 

Fourth, Always offer safe, preferred foods along with the foods you are eating.  Putting new foods within reach or on their plate but do not force them to be eaten. But don’t assume they won’t want to eat the new foods either!  Keep offering!

Finally, be patient and offer encouragement. It may take some time, but eventually, your child will hopefully outgrow their oral defensiveness with the help of pediatric occupational therapy, and be open to trying new foods.

Final Thoughts

Oral defensiveness can be frustrating for both parents and children alike but there are ways to overcome it. If you think your child may be orally defensive, the first step is to consult with a doctor or therapist specializing in sensory processing disorders or feeding disorders. 

Additionally, you can work on exposure with your child by gradually introducing new foods and textures in a non-threatening way. Going at your child’s pace and not forcing them to eat anything will also be helpful in overcoming oral defensiveness.

Looking for sensory items to help your child stay calm and regulated?

Check out the products at SensaCalm! Weighted blankets and other sensory accessories.


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