The Life of a Feeding Specialist: Why I do what I do

I’ve gotten my nose broken from a flinging arm, a fractured rib from a fleeing kick, a black eye from a flying Sippy cup to name a few injuries. I’ve also spent countless days covered in either: vomit, breast milk, food or other. If you are a parent reading this, you may be thinking, “What’s the big deal? What is she complaining about? I have these days too!” Right? But it’s not MY child’s vomit or MY breast milk. So why, might you ask, do I adore my job and love helping children with feeding disorders? Here are a few reasons:

1. Empathy

I have so much empathy for the children I work with and how hard they struggle. When I told some of my pediatric clients that I was writing this post they wanted me to tell you, the reader, that it’s not their fault they can’t eat what you want them to. They want me to share that they want more than anything to please you and for you to be proud of them. They want to connect with you around the meal you have so tediously prepared, but they just can’t. They don’t want to be talked about while sitting there at the table, right in front of you. And they don’t like being judged, or teased, scolded or compared to other siblings at the table. They want me to express their fear of having to keep eating “one more bite” when they are full and having no control over the portions on their plate. One child told me “I am an eating failure.”

These children used those words! Can you believe the emotion behind the word “failure” for a little 6 year-old to use? Most of these children said the above statements in front of their parents! Some moms cried, another was angry, another apologized to their child and a fresh feeding relationship was budding right in front of me! I am so proud to write down their words and to share a little of “the other side of the story.” Yes, I adore my kiddos.

2. Evaluate

I evaluate children and make a diagnosis of: feeding disorders, oral-motor disorders, sensory disorders, structural disorders, picky eating or problem feeding and swallowing disorders (dysphagia) when applicable. All of these diagnoses can cause a child to refuse to eat. More importantly, none of them are the child’s fault; it is out of their control. These kiddos are not stubborn. For one reason or another, they can’t eat like we can- without help that is. I am devoted to the evaluation process and giving these families answers as to why their child has eating difficulties. My hope is that with these answers, families can help their child instead of pressuring them.

3. Education

I have the privilege of helping parents understand and honor their child’s eating fears and inabilities. I educate mommies about their child’s difficulties and how they can help them overcome. I instruct daddies on tools they can use to help stimulate their child’s eating. In short, I love helping families reconnect at the dinner table!

4. Eating!!!

I get to eat with my kiddos! I eat with my clients, and I eat what they are eating, because it shows that I want to be a part of their world. It lets them know they can trust me as a feeder. They also get a lot of sensory information about the way they eat a certain food compared to the way I eat it. They learn through this experience and they try new ways to eat their preferred foods and they learn how to eat new foods. They engage. They create and play. And they overcome their feeding issues through this safe therapeutic process.

I not only have to earn the child’s trust, but the parents trust as well. Feeding therapy is a non-judgmental interaction between all feeders and eaters. Whatever the mom brings to therapy for the child to (hopefully) eat, mom and I get to eat too! Families have a wide range of reasons for bringing particular foods into therapy, such as cultural, social-economic, financial and nutritional reasons, which are all embraced with acceptance at our clinic. However, our ultimate goal in therapy is to get every child to eat a wide range of whole foods.

I fall in love with my clients and my profession every day. Thanks for taking this challenging and humorous journey into my world of feeding and nourishing picky eating children.

Happy Feeding!


Published on: November 05, 2012
About the Author
Photo of Dawn Winkelmann

Dawn Winkelmann, M.S, CCC-SLP is a Speech Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist at her clinic Spectrum Speech & Feeding located in Newport Beach, CA. For more information visit

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