Teaching Your Special Needs Child How to Eat On Their Own

Children with special needs can take longer to learn how to eat independently. Read these top tips for mealtimes.

Eating a meal can be particularly challenging for children who have disabilities. A lack of fine motor skills (like finding it hard to hold a fork), sensory restrictions (like being paralysed or unable to see) and co-ordination difficulties are some of the many reasons that may delay the learning process. This can be frustrating for you and your child.

Author Deborah French has four children, two of whom have special needs. Her eldest daughter, Amariah, has Down’s syndrome and her son, Henry, has autism spectrum disorder. “Socialising with others generally includes eating together,” she says. “So learning how to eat neatly is crucial to helping our children to integrate.”

Deborah, who also runs cookery classes for children with special needs, came to realise that nagging her children about their table manners wasn’t working. Instead, she developed practical solutions to help them learn, with rapid results.

Deborah’s top tips for happy mealtimes

1. Be patient

“When stress or frustration controls your reactions while trying to teach your child, they will reflect your mood and act accordingly. They will fear your reaction to their mistakes, and as a result will not be able to give their best efforts. Give instructions calmly, with positive reinforcement.”

2. Invest in a funky child-sized apron

“As your child gets older, even though it may still be necessary for them to wear a bib to protect their clothing, this can also be demoralising and embarrassing in front of other family members or peers. An apron is more discreet and will help eliminate any negative feelings your child may harbour before mealtime has even begun.”

3. Encourage your child to help lay the table

“Irrespective of the nature of your child’s disability, take the time to involve them in preparing the table for dinner. Even watching you collect cutlery, cups and napkins helps your child to feel they have participated. During this process, talk your child through what you are doing and why. For example: ‘We use a fork to pick up pieces of food on our plate instead of our fingers. That way, the fork gets dirty and not our fingers’.”

4. Use heavy cutlery and solid crockery

“As parents, we instinctively opt for plastic or disposable utensils to avoid breakage and to make cleaning up easier. But for a child who has either low or high muscle tone or difficulty with their fine motor skills, a plastic fork simply feels like air. These children need to be able to feel the cutlery they are holding. The same is true for plastic plates and cups, which are unstable and easily knocked over. Solid cutlery and crockery will make it easier to teach your child how to eat.”

Read about other eating equipment that can help.

5. Take the time to eat with your child

“If you eat your evening meal later than your child, compromise by ensuring that during your child’s mealtime, you too are seated at the table. Even if you enjoy your coffee or a smaller version of what your child is eating, they will be encouraged by your presence. You can then talk about your food and how you eat with your cutlery. Take note of how quickly your child imitates your actions.”

6. Keep a standalone mirror and wet cloth handy

“The most effective way of teaching self-awareness to a child is to let them view themselves. Even as adults, how often after enjoying a meal with friends have we been unaware that a chunk of food, usually green in colour, has become wedged between our front teeth?

“Apply this theory when helping your child to understand food residue on their face after eating. Before they leave the table, place the mirror in front of them and encourage them to look at their reflection and clean themselves using the wet cloth.”

7. Encourage your child to clear their place

“Again, irrespective of your child’s disability, teach them how to participate in the cleaning up process after eating according to their ability. This may involve them handing their plate to you or taking it to the side to be washed; alternatively wiping their place clean as best they can. Any level of participation helps to develop their self-awareness and obligations at mealtimes.

“It’s important to remember that everyone likes to feel valued and needed. When you give your child responsibilities, they feel important to you and the family. This in turn boosts their self-confidence and speeds up the learning process.”

Read our interview with Deborah about parenting children with special needs.

Specialist eating and drinking equipment

To help your child learn good eating skills, you may find that specialist eating or drinking equipment will make a real difference. The Caroline Walker Trust, a food charity, recommends a number of helpful aids to eating that parents of children with learning disabilities may find useful for their child.

These include:

  • Different shaped cups, with one or two handles, of different weights, materials, transparencies and designs. The cups should be designed not to shatter or break if they are bitten.
  • A transparent cup can be helpful when helping someone to drink, because you can see how much liquid they’re taking.
  • Cutlery of differing shapes, sizes, depths and materials. Again, the cutlery shouldn’t shatter if it is bitten. Solid plastic cutlery or plastic-coated metal might be better for people who have a bite reflex when cutlery is placed in their mouth. Shorter-handled cutlery is easier to manage, and hand grips or irregularly shaped handles may help someone in using a utensil.
  • Plates and bowls that do not slip, have higher sides to prevent spillage, or are angled to make access to food easier.
  • Insulated crockery that keeps food hot if mealtimes are lengthy.
  • Non-slip mats that support crockery.
  • Straws, which can help those with a weaker suck and can have different widths.
  • Feeding systems that deliver food to the diner’s mouth through, for example, a rotating plate and a mechanical or electronically controlled spoon. Some systems are powered, others are hand- or foot-operated.

For more information and details of suppliers, visit the Living Made Easy website.

NHS Choices logo

From www.nhs.uk

Child Health & Safety News 1/29: Selfies Worse Than Bullying

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Health News: Kid-Friendly Volunteer Opportunities

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we overlook something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 20 events & stories.

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:

Selfies ‘worse for children than bullying’

7 Ways to Teach Kids Kindness That Will Reduce Bullying

For over three decades I’ve studied how to reduce bullying, but some of the best solutions come from students. One ten-year old told me: “I used to bully kids at my “old school,” but stopped when I got here.” “What’s different about this school?” I asked. “The kids,” he said, “they stick up for each other and let me know the very first day that bullying isn’t cool here.”

The students proved the latest data: bullying is far less likely to happen in classrooms and school cultures where kindness is the norm. Empowering students to work together to create a caring environment is one of the most overlooked strategies in bullying prevention. After all, bullying breeds where empathy lies dormant and aggression is tolerated.

Here are seven ideas to help children learn that kindness is the best way to reduce bullying from my new book End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe and Caring Schools. Reducing bullying is not a quick fix, but a systemic, deliberate approach that includes the 6Rs of effective bullying prevention: Rules, Recognize, Report, Respond, Refuse, and Replace. But the foundation is always respectful relationships and a caring climate.

1. Assign friendly greeters. Every school has friendly, kind students whose skill set can be a powerful model for peers. Identify them to serve as student greeters who welcome entering students (“Hi!” “Glad you’re here!” “Have a good day”) at the school or classroom door. Then watch a positive change in just a short while as students began to look forward to the greeting. Parents can do the same at home by modeling and reinforcing their children’s kind statements and actions and encouraging their friends to do the same.

2. Form welcome wagons. New kids can feel the pain of exclusion and are more likely to be bullied. So, initiate a student “Welcome Wagon Committee” to greet newcomers, give them a school tour, pair them with “veteran” students and feel welcomed. Parents can cultivate empathy by asking children: “How would you feel if you were brand new? What would you want a peer to do for you? How can you do that for others?”

3. Initiate “stop bullying” clubs. Kid groups can be as small as two or as large as the whole school and meet before or after school, over lunchtime, or at home on weekends. Kids can work together to create banners, buttons and even YouTube videos that feature the concept: “Let’s stop bullying and be kind.” Encourage community groups (Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCA, scouts, youth ministries) to work with interested kids to boost kindness beyond school walls.

4. Set a “no put-downs” rule. I’ve visited many schools and knew instantly they were curbing unkindness: students made signs and displayed them at their front doors: “Unkindness is not allowed.” “This Is a No Put-Downs Zone.” The effect was potent! Establish norm that “our school or home stands for kindness” same in your Scout troops, athletic leagues and neighborhood.

5. Teach kids how to help peers. Over 13,000 of surveyed students said that the most helpful things peers can do for students who are bullied is to include and encourage them. Kids also say they need to know how to help. So, brainstorm ways to help and comfort others such as: Call the person to say you’re sorry. Text a note saying he didn’t deserve to be treated like that. Ask if she wants to have lunch together. Offer to help report the bullying to a teacher or parent. Let the peer know she’s not alone. Say: “Is there anything I can do?” “Are you okay?” If practiced often enough kids will use those prosocial skills at school and at home.

6. Stress kindness: University of British Columbia researchers found that children who perform small acts of kindness may help counteract bullying. The more aware kids are of ways to be kind, the most likely they’ll use kind behaviors. Brainstorm together easy ways to be kind that don’t cost a dime. Post the list, keep adding to it, and acknowledge kids’ heart-hearted efforts.

7. Give opportunities to be kind. Most important: encourage your children to be kind and then reinforce their efforts! Children who are given the opportunity to help others tend to become more helpful-especially if the effective of their kindness on those they helped was pointed out. So, describe the impact: “Kevin was so happy when you asked him to play.” “Did you see Sarah’s smile when you shared your…”

Bullying remains the most serious and underrated public health problem in our schools, often causing students physical and emotional distress and significantly impacting their learning performance. Respectful relationships are the ultimate antidote to bullying, and it’s up to adults to help children realize that kindness wins!


Bullying-prevention and character expert Michele Borba, Ed.D. has spent the past three decades studying youth violence and bullying and worked with more than a million students, parents, educators, and law enforcement officials worldwide. The result is End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe and Caring Schools. Based on the 6Rs: Rules, Recognize, Report, Respond, Refuse, and Replace, the book utilizes the strongest pieces of best practices and current research for ways to reduce cruelty and increase positive behavior support. Also included are guidelines for implementing strategies, nurturing empathy and caring relationships, collecting data, training staff, mobilizing students and parents, building social-emotional skills, and sustaining progress. The result is a proven framework that will reduce bullying, create safer more inclusive schools and produce more kind-hearted, empathetic children. End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy will be available February 12th at amazon.com

Sensory Friendly Screening of Paddington 2, Tomorrow at AMC

New sensory friendly logoSince 2007, AMC Entertainment (AMC) and the Autism Society have teamed up to bring families affected by autism and other special needs “Sensory Friendly Films” every month – a wonderful opportunity to enjoy fun new films in a safe and accepting environment.

The movie auditoriums will have their lights turned up and the sound turned down. Families will be able to bring in snacks to match their child’s dietary needs (i.e. gluten-free, casein-free, etc.), there are no advertisements or previews before the movie and it’s totally acceptable to get up and dance, walk, shout, talk to each other…and even sing – in other words, AMC’s “Silence is Golden®” policy will not be enforced during movie screenings unless the safety of the audience is questioned.

Does it make a difference? Absolutely! Imagine …no need to shhhhh your child. No angry stares from other movie goers. Many parents think twice before bringing a child to a movie theater. Add to that your child’s special needs and it can easily become cause for parental panic. But on this one day a month, for this one screening, everyone is there to relax and have a good time, everyone expects to be surrounded by kids – with and without special needs – and the movie theater policy becomes “Tolerance is Golden“.

Families affected by autism or other special needs can view a sensory friendly screening of Paddington 2 on Saturday, January 27th at 10am (local time). Tickets are typically $4 to $6 depending on the location. To find a theatre near you, here is a list of AMC theatres nationwide participating in this fabulous program (note: to access full list, please scroll to the bottom of the page).

Coming in February: Peter Rabbit (Sat 2/10 & 2/24); The Maze Runner: The Death Cure (Tues 2/13); Black Panther (Tues 2/27)


Editor’s note: Although Paddington 2 has been chosen by the AMC and the Autism Society as this month’s Sensory Friendly Film, we do want parents to know that it is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for action and mild rude humor. As always, please check the IMDB Parents Guide for a more detailed description of this film to determine if it is right for you and your family.

How To Prevent and Treat Teen Smelly Feet

Smelly feet aren’t fun for anyone, but there is an effective, simple and cheap treatment that you can use at home which will banish foot odour within a week.

Medically known as bromodosis, stinky feet are a common year-round problem.

The main cause is sweaty feet combined with wearing the same shoes every day.

Why feet sweat

Anyone can get sweaty feet, regardless of the temperature or time of year. But teenagers and pregnant women are especially prone because hormonal changes make them sweat more.

You’re also more likely to have foot perspiration if you’re on your feet all day, if you’re under a lot of stress or if you have a medical condition called hyperhidrosis, which makes you sweat more than usual. Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, can also lead to bad foot odour.

According to podiatrist, Lorraine Jones, feet become smelly if sweat soaks into shoes and they don’t dry before you wear them again.

Bacteria on the skin break down sweat as it comes from the pores. A cheesy odour is released as the sweat decomposes.

“Your feet sweat into your shoes all day so they get damp and bacteria start to grow. The bacteria continue to breed once you’ve taken your shoes off, especially if you put them in a dark cupboard. Then, when you put your shoes back on the next day, even if you’ve just had a shower, putting your feet into still damp shoes creates the perfect conditions for the bacteria to thrive – warm, dark and moist.”

How to treat smelly feet

The good news is that there’s a simple, quick, sure-fire solution to smelly feet.

  • Wash your feet with an anti-bacterial soap called Hibiscrub. There are lots of over-the-counter foot hygiene products at your local chemist, but Hibiscrub is the best one.
  • Leave on the Hibiscrub for a couple of minutes, then wash it off.

According to Lorraine, “if you do this twice a day, you’ll definitely banish smelly feet within a week.”

She adds that you shouldn’t use Hibiscrub on your feet if you have broken skin, such as eczema.

Preventing smelly feet

Keeping feet fresh and sweet smelling is all down to good personal hygiene and changing your shoes regularly. To keep feet fresh:

  • Never wear the same pair of shoes two days in a row. Instead, wear different shoes on successive days so they have at least 24 hours to dry out.
  • Make sure teenage boys have two pairs of trainers so that they don’t have to wear the same pair for two or more consecutive days.
  • Wash and dry your feet every day and change your socks (ideally wool or cotton, not nylon) at least once a day.
  • Keep your toenails short and clean and remove any hard skin with a foot file. Hard skin can become soggy when damp, which provides an ideal home for bacteria

If you’re particularly susceptible to sweaty feet, it’s a good idea to:

  • dab between your toes with cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit after a shower or bath – surgical spirit helps dry out the skin between the toes really well – in addition to drying them with a towel
  • use a spray deodorant or antiperspirant on your feet – a normal underarm deodorant or antiperspirant works just as well as a specialist foot product and will cost you less
  • put medicated insoles, which have a deodorising effect, in your shoes
  • try feet-fresh socks – some sports socks have ventilation panels to keep feet dry, and antibacterial socks are impregnated with chemicals to discourage the odour-producing bacteria that feed on sweat
  • wear leather or canvas shoes, as they let your feet breathe, unlike plastic ones
  • wear open-toed sandals in summer and go barefoot at home in the evenings

When to see a doctor

Smelly feet are a harmless problem that generally clears up. Sometimes, however, it can be a sign of a medical condition.

See your GP (*doctor) if simple measures to reduce your foot odour don’t help, or if you’re worried that your level of sweating is abnormally high.

Your doctor can offer you a strong prescription antiperspirant or refer you for a treatment called iontophoresis, which delivers a mild electric current through water to your feet to combat excessive sweating.

Here are more tips on how to look after your feet.


Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

NHS Choices logo

From www.nhs.uk

Child Health & Safety News 1/22: Stranger Danger vs Tricky People

twitter thumbIn this week’s Child Health News: Flu is now widespread throughout the U.S. 30 children have already died cnn.it/2mVYvEz

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world. Each day we use social media to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we overlook something, but overall we think we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. Still, quite a bit happens every day – so to make sure you don’t miss anything, we offer you a recap of this week’s top 20 events & stories.

  • When fevers get high, know that ibuprofen and acetaminophen may not drop your child’s temperature to “normal.” The medicine’s job is just to make your child feel better so they can more comfortably rest and hydrate. 2018-01-21
  • Prosecutors: Caseworkers Withholding Child Toxicology Tests in Cases Where They are Suspected To Have Been Exposed to Illegal Drugs – the concern is fear of losing federal funding. Seriously??? When Do Kids Come First? bit.ly/2DT2mu9 2018-01-21
  • Study Shows Public Smoking Bans Benefit Children bit.ly/2DT1ZQ7 Concerns that the bans would shift smoking from public places to the home have been proven untrue 2018-01-20
  • A School’s Way To Fight Phones In Class: Lock ‘Em Up n.pr/2r44b4O Locked in pouches for the duration of class. Student keeps possession but can’t access them 2018-01-20
  • Pediatric HealthSource: Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia bit.ly/2mIvegF 2018-01-19

PedSafe Child Health & Safety News Headline of the Week:
Why parents don’t need to teach ‘stranger danger’ – instead they’re teaching about “tricky people” bit.ly/2DWA55M

  • GOP leaders pitch children’s health funding in plan to avert shutdown bit.ly/2FOdd9m 2018-01-18
  • Food Stamp Program Makes Fresh Produce More Affordable n.pr/2Db6MeE 2018-01-18
  • This is Why You Should Be Giving Your Kids More Chores bit.ly/2mI8LAT …teaching responsibility – chores for each age 2018-01-17
  • It’s Important to Explain Why “That’s Inappropriate!” Thurs Time Capsule – 12/11 bit.ly/2DL9Mzo 2018-01-18
  • Nearly half a million children being vaccinated against diphtheria in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in response to the current diphtheria outbreak bit.ly/2D6qpEw 2018-01-17
  • Detroit Hospitals ban children as visitors to stop spread of deadly H3n2 flu dailym.ai/2D5696B 7 more US kids died of the flu this week alone 2018-01-17
  • Video: Childhood Squint – How to Identify and Treat It zpr.io/njWDY 2018-01-17
  • What You Need To Know About This Year’s Flu Season n.pr/2AZoccj 2018-01-16
  • 8 Signs of a Healthy Baby 2018-01-15
  • Teenagers are putting detergent pods in their mouths in what’s being called the “Tide Pod Challenge,” and a government watchdog is expressing concern 2018-01-15
  • Agreement reached to bring Chinese children with brain tumors to Jacksonville for treatment bit.ly/2CY1WkT 2018-01-15
  • 7 Books to Start the Conversation About Sexual Assault bit.ly/2Dv7bJK 2018-01-15
  • Is It Safe for My Child to Whiten Their Teeth? How? zpr.io/njFk9 2018-01-15