Increasingly, I receive more and more e-mails from parents asking me… ME… for feeding advice. Baaaaah! I’ve read quite a bit on the topic of selective eating and I talk very openly about our struggles with food, but that certainly doesn’t qualify me as any sort of feeding expert. I’m just a mom with a selective eating child. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all that parents of selective eating kids feel that we have to turn to for advice and support. Each other.
Doctors dismiss our concerns with, “just a picky eater”; I’ve had a dietitian recommend removing bread from the table, the only food TJ will eat; we have bewildered a well trained occupational therapist, and a pediatrician. Even the pediatric psychiatrist that finally diagnosed TJ with generalized anxiety and specific food phobia is scratching his head. We’re quite talented at confusing the experts.
Nobody truly understands what it feels like to watch your child starve themselves more than another parent faced with the same challenges. I can share what I’ve learned so far and what works for us specifically, but there are so many contributing factors that could make a child fearful of unfamiliar food, many of which I have no personal experience with.
I do, however, have a voice through this blog and I hope it’s loud enough to reach those who are qualified to offer this particular mom some help. Please!
Mom is an ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis) therapist for children with autism. “I once worked 2 hours a day, 5 times a week for 4 months to get a girl to drink water. She was petrified of water in her mouth. Parents used to use a syringe to get water in. Eventually, I discovered that if I slathered her sippy cup with peanut butter, as she sucked it off, out came the water. I broke that goal down into a million steps! But I’m lost with my own kid.”
“Growing up with colitis, my diet was basically boiled chicken, potatoes and Ensure®. I was 18 before I ever had anything containing dairy, sugar, red sauce… My head cannot wrap itself around NOT wanting food when it’s ALL I wanted. Dr. Atkins (of Atkins Diet fame) gave me 3 “whatever you want to eat” days over the course of years. I loved those days!”
Son will turn 4 in May, 2013.
He shows no signs of autism or developmental delay. No oral motor issues, no speech issues, no sensory sensitivities and no known allergies. GI evaluation checked out fine.
“His pediatrician advised us to start him on purees at 4 months because he wasn’t gaining much weight nursing. He never took to the texture. By the age of one, he was gagging at anything besides yogurt and crying at the sight of his high chair.
He attended a few sessions of feeding therapy at age 2. He spat, tantrumed, and went completely nuts. The therapist put a piece of chicken in with his preferred yogurt and I watched my otherwise typical toddler headbanging, screaming, spitting and crying to the point of vomiting. I wanted to kill myself seeing him go absolutely ballistic. That was the last of that.
At his 3 year check up, he measured 36” and 25lbs. Since then, there has been no progress in height or weight and his list of safe food is getting smaller.
His current diet includes granola bar, yogurt, banana. His main drink is a drinkable yogurt. As of 3 months ago he will eat french toast and just recently, pasta, carrot applesauce, certain dehydrated fruit, veggie chips and sometimes a scrambled egg. He seems interested in broccoli, but throws up when he eats it. Other than that, no vegetables, no meat. He has pretty much always eaten for necessity. He doesn’t “love” anything.”
What Meals Currently Look Like:
Mom spends anywhere from 3-5 hrs a day trying to feed her son, and hours waiting for him to chew and swallow. She wants to encourage him to eat by himself so she doesn’t have to feed him, especially now that she is nursing his baby sister.
“He sees broccoli and asks me to make him some, so I do. Once it’s on his plate, his whole body language gets tense. He’ll stare at it for 20 – 30 minutes. When I encourage him to try it, he puts it in his mouth, gags and barfs it up. I’m glad that he is asking, but it’s so frustrating to watch him sitting there, staring at it forever. Then I lose my patience and say, “You asked for this, did you want to eat it?” It seems to have become a game of “pleasing mommy for asking” but no intent of eating it.”
He will not eat at school because he doesn’t want his friends to know he can’t eat like them. Now he has starting declining invitations to birthday parties because of the food.
He will pocket a bite of sandwich for well over an hour. Mom has tried a token board (1 bite of chicken earns 1 choc chip), but he just pockets the food in his cheek. He has zero concept of taking bites. He shoves it all in his mouth and then spits it all out. No idea how to handle a slice of pizza, it needs to be precut into 32 squares. Same with a sandwich (16 bites), otherwise he can’t handle it. He can, however, shovel in his preferred snacks just fine.
“This summer I put him on a timer so there is a beginning and end in sight to meals. When timer goes off, I say, “Meal over”, and he goes crazy! “Noooo, I’m not done!!!!” So I let him sit longer, and he just stares at his plate. Everyone around me has been using intimidating tactics (including me in the past).”
Stress, pocketing, and growth concerns. This child has never eaten without being pressured.
Mom agreed to remove as much pressure as she could. No bribes, no “this” for “that” rewards for eating, but she decided to keep the timer so Son knows the meal will eventually end. After 10 days, Mom reports:
“More progress this week. A lick of spaghetti, and a shooting peas game. Red sauce accidentally touched his cheek. Oh, man! lol!” Mom has stopped using the timer, and although there is small progress, an ongoing problem remains, “When he asks for something specific, he will stares at it for half an hour. When he finally tries it, he gags and barfs. How long is too long? What do I do?”
I shared what is working for us. “You decide what food to offer and you HAVE to include at least 2 things he has no issue with. (One food, one drink – very cool). He decides how much he wants to eat. This is served buffet style, not pre-plated. Put things out he might like to try, but the option is his to decline. Don’t encourage him to eat anything – just let him know he is free to choose. You just put eating completely in his control. Now, he can set the pace on learning how to eat. If you are worried that he is not eating enough, offer food more often. How doable to you think this is?”
Mom thinks this is very do-able, and reports on their first meal using the Division of Responsibility. “Buffet this morning went well. He picked his usual, of course, granola bar. When I told him to take whichever he wanted, he cried and wanted me to pick it up. This will take getting used to.”
What advice do you have for this Mom and little boy?
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UPDATE Added June 14, 2013: Four and Not Growing – Follow Up
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