Sunday, December 9, 2012

Feeding Therapy Success

As I mentioned in a previous post, my son has officially been discharged from his feeding therapy.  It's amazing to think that this time last year he was still eating only stage 2 baby foods and yobaby - and pretty specific flavors at that.  If you tried to put any regular food on his plate he would scream and cry and refuse to touch it.

While he is still technically a picky eater, he probably eats more variety than his sisters did at his age.  For dinner in the past week he's had chicken, shrimp, italian sausage, and beef.  He loves raw carrots, and has been willing to try pretty much anything we put on his plate.  Last night's cheesy zucchini rice was a surprising hit.

Admittedly his breakfasts and lunches are still very much in the "beige" category of typical toddler fare - pancakes for breakfast, peanut butter or cheese sandwiches for lunch.  I insist that he eats some sort of fruit or veggie with every meal and he often chooses applesauce, but since I get the no sugar added variety, I'm ok with that.

My advice to anyone who has a kid like this who is over 2 years old, has hit all the other usual developmental milestones, and still refuses to eat table food, get some help.  For a while my pediatrician and I pushed it off as something he would grow out of, but honestly it would have taken a long time and possibly affected his future growth if we hadn't gotten some help.  He had a strong gag reflex which created a psychological fear of eating.  My husband insisted this was a first world problem and I was enabling him by giving in to his food requests.  While the first part of that is probably true,  I was never so sure about the second.

When I brought him in for his 2 1/2 year well check the pediatrician recommended trying feeding therapy. Once diagnosed he was prescribed a 8 week feeding group with other kids with similar issues, as well as weekly in home visits with a therapist.  Thankfully, most of the cost of that was covered by the state until he turned 3 - in our case Illinois - I don't know if every state covers it.  We did have to pay a small monthly fee (based on a sliding scale of income).    After he turned 3, the state stopped covering the weekly therapy (we only did one session of the group therapy), but insurance still covered a large portion of the cost.

In the beginning stages the therapists would just have him play with the food, and the more he tolerated the more they encouraged and gently pushed him to go further.

Some weeks he refused to do anything, other weeks he happily did whatever was expected of him. The main thing was the therapist made it fun coming up with silly games to get him to try the food. Finally he started eating - at first tiny nibbles, but over time he would take bigger and bigger bites. Once he was comfortable with the mechanics of chewing it became less about play and we worked on getting him to try more flavors, encouraging mixing things together. For example instead of just eating scrambled eggs, make an omelet using cheese we knew he liked and adding one more ingredient. Once you find something they like, change subtle things about it to encourage trying new things.

After about 9 months of therapy he built up to about 30 different foods that he likes (10 fruits & veggies, 10 proteins and 10 carbs), and he was ready to be discharged. He does still occasionally refuse to try something new, but now it's just typical 3 year old stuff, and I know that if he doesn't eat his dinner, he'll make up for it the next day at breakfast and lunch. I've also told him that the more dinners he tries and likes the sooner he can get a night of the week where he chooses our dinner just like his sisters get.

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