ezpz Feeding Tips for Children With Vision Impairments
By Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist & Feeding Specialist for ezpz
October is Blind Awareness Month, which helps the public understand the lives of those of living without sight. It is estimated that about 1.3 million people in the U.S. are legally blind and approximately 93,600 school-age children in the U.S. are blind or visually impaired. This month team ezpz celebrates Blind Awareness Month and promotes how our products are changing mealtime for children who are visually impaired. Here are a few ezpz feeding tips for children with vision impairments.
Awareness: We believe awareness and outreach are key to helping children who are blind or visually impaired learn how to independently feed themselves. That is why we support our local school, the Anchor Center for Blind Children, with free ezpz products for their infant and preschool feeding therapy programs. The Anchor Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing early intervention and education to children who are blind or visually impaired.
Self-feeding: According to research, some children who are born with vision impairments may be delayed by two years or more with their feeding skills. Since feeding abilities are usually visually acquired, the Mini Mat and Happy Mat can help these children improve their tactile skills (the sense of touch) to promote self-feeding. Specifically, using the mat’s ‘eyes’ and ‘smile’ for food location points improves their independence. In addition, the raised sides of the mat and suction feature help them hold on to their plate! Parents and therapists tell me that their kids went from being a frustrated and anxious eater (because their plate was constantly moving around every time they reached for food) to a confident and happy eater!
Here is a real life example from Meagan Patrick, a mom of a beautiful child (pictured) who is blind, has developmental delays and a seizure disorder. Meagan writes, “We began by introducing foods on the Happy Mat that were small enough (so they wouldn't present a choking hazard), but also big enough so she could pick them up, mostly for tactile stimulation / exploration. We didn't think she would actually be able to feed herself. But, we tried. Addy began to touch food cautiously, and then started to pick up small items. Almost everything ended up on the floor, but she kept trying. Before we knew it, Addy was using a pincer grasp (she had never done that before!) and picking up cheerios from her Happy Mat. My floor was cleaner every day as she learned to manipulate her foods and get them efficiently to her mouth. As she practiced, she also worked on chewing and safely swallowing a variety of tastes and textures. Now, my once exclusively tube-fed child is self-feeding 90-100% of her calories each and every day thanks to the stability and structure the Happy Mat provides for her. As a wonderful bonus, Addy was previously tactile-defensive. She was scared to reach out and touch things. Because of this wonderful, successful experience of eating on her own, she now reaches out to readily to explore her environment. My blind child is LEARNING about the world around her through touch. This is an amazing and wonderful transformation, all because she was given the right tools to succeed!”
Contrast: Therapists have found that the contrast between our gray colored Happy Mat and the vibrant colors of food helps them be successful with eating. Sometimes it is much easier to find bright fruits and veggies when they are placed on a darker-colored plate. Some parents have also had a lot of success with our coral colored mat as well! Laura Ostrowski, mom of a beautiful three-year old with low vision says, “Before we received the Happy Mat I felt like there was a feeding product out there for everyone else’s needs but ours. Low vision is all about contrast and consistency and that’s why the Happy Mat is perfect for us!” Moreover, we hear from occupational therapists, speech language pathologists and teachers in schools for the blind and visually impaired that they ONLY purchase our products in the coral color to help give children the contrast they need to be successful eaters!
Consistency: To promote self-feeding with kiddos that have low vision, it is essential to have food be in the same place every time. There are several feeding methods out there to teach children to eat independently with utensils. But the problem is that regular plates move when the child scoops, causing inconsistency and decreased dignity during mealtime. I prefer to use ezpz products with my visually impaired kiddos so that the meal stays in one place, which builds consistency and trust during each eating experience.
We support our visually impaired community and are committed to the development of their feeding skills. What are some ways you are using ezpz products to help your children this month? #BlindnessAwarenessMonth #myezpzmat
Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 26 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning Tiny Cup & Tiny Spoon (for infants) and the Mini Cup + Straw Training System & Mini Utensils (for toddlers).