Intervention for Feeding Difficulties in Children With a Complex Medical History: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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This study aimed to compare outcomes of different multidisciplinary feeding therapy approaches in children with feeding difficulties.


Children aged 2 to 6 years with feeding difficulties and a medically complex history (MC) were recruited. Children with feeding difficulties and a nonmedically complex history (NMC) were included as a comparison group. Participants attended a clinical assessment, and eligible participants were randomized to receive targeted feeding intervention incorporating either operant conditioning or systematic desensitization. Parents could elect to receive intervention in an intensive (10 sessions in a week) or weekly (10 sessions during 10 weeks) format. Both groups received immersive parent training. A review was completed 3 months post-intervention.


In total, 98 participants were eligible to participate (MC, n = 43; NMC, n = 55). Data from 20 children from the MC group (47%) and 41 children from the NMC group (75%) were included in the final analysis. Clinically significant improvements were observed following both arms of therapy, consistent with previous research. Parents of children in the MC arm were significantly more likely to elect for intensive intervention than weekly (MC = 12/20, 60%; 12/41, 29%; P = 0.02).


Both therapy protocols were considered clinically effective. The difference in attrition rates between the etiological groups suggests primary differences in how service delivery should be managed. Progress for the medically complex child may be slower while medical issues are stabilized, or while the focus for parents shifts to other developmental areas. In planning services for a medically complex group, therefore, it is essential that consideration be given to medical and family needs.

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