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Occupational therapist bites into feeding therapy abroad

January 26, 2015

(Michigan) WEST BLOOMFIELD — Ninety-degree temperatures and sunshine in December would sound great to anybody living in Michigan.

But for Jessica Hunt, of Roseville, spending three weeks in Australia was anything but a winter vacation.

Hunt — an occupational therapist and director of the Oral-Motor and Feeding Programs at the Kaufman Children’s Center for Speech, Language, Sensory-Motor and Social Connections Inc. in West Bloomfield — traveled to Queensland’s Sunshine Coast to treat five children with severe eating challenges and cerebral palsy.

Her work at the KCC has gained attention from families across the United States and the world who have traveled to Michigan for feeding therapy sessions.

The KCC provides individual speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, social skills instruction and applied verbal behavior therapy for children up to 17 years old.

Nancy Kaufman, owner and director of the KCC, said many children who have feeding issues also have a speech issue, and Hunt works to implement a sensory-based approach to gaining quality feeding.

“People don’t necessarily think of us for feeding, and (Hunt’s) current traveling and consulting has really put a rubber stamp on the quality of her skills and the effectiveness of her programs,” Kaufman said.

Hunt began working with 2-year-old Nolan from Australia in April 2014 in West Bloomfield. Nolan, at the time, was only eating pureed foods.

“When he left at the end of three weeks, we got him to the point where he was trying anything and eating a ... variety of solid foods,” Hunt said.

Because Nolan would occasionally get into a fixated posture, Hunt said her favorite moment was when his parents brought in a snowman doughnut; he grabbed it with both hands and took a big bite out of the head.

“That was a really fun moment to watch, and for the parents to be able to put something on his tray and let him eat for a little while was really big for this family,” Hunt said.

Because of Nolan’s success, the family reached out to other families in their area about Nolan’s therapy treatments through social media websites. Five families with children ranging from 2 to 7 years old raised funds to bring Hunt to Australia, Hunt said.

“In Australia, cerebral palsy is probably the most common diagnosis, where as here, autism is first and foremost. For a lot of those families, the way the medical system works, there’s not a lot of intensive services.

“Most of the parents have been told their child will never do anything. The families are amazingly resilient and they don’t take that as an answer, and they search all over the world,” Hunt said.

Because each child was at a different stage in eating abilities, her therapy techniques changed from child to child.

“It was definitely a great experience, and just getting to work with different families and children was very eye-opening. It was always good to see how different the culture of Australia is from how things are here,” Hunt said. Though the meal times were culturally similar to meals in the United States, Hunt said dinner was more family-oriented.

For children with a feeding issue, Hunt recommends families eat dinner together.

As opposed to the children traveling to West Bloomfield, Hunt said working with them on their “home turf” played a role in each kid’s success. Climate, she said, plays a role in their sleeping and hunger patterns, also.

“I definitely think that it was more efficient for them to be seen in their home areas,” she said, adding that the children could keep their normal routines and sleep in their own beds.

Part of Hunt’s therapy sessions included working with parents to educate them on what their child is experiencing and coach them to work with their child. Hunt held mock meals for the parents.

“Working with the family is incredibly important. It’s great if (children) eat for me, but we need them to be able to do that at home,” Hunt said.

Besides traveling to talk about occupational therapy, Hunt said it is not typical for her to travel outside the country to treat children and consult with families. If she wants to return, she said there is a demand for current therapy techniques because therapists in Australia are not required to have continued training.

(Source: candgnews.com)


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