“My son has feeding problems.”
When I utter this phrase to inquiring minds, I can anticipate exactly what their interpretation of “feeding problems” equates to for a toddler.
“Oh, that he sustains on a diet of Goldfish, chicken nuggets, and he doesn’t eat broccoli?”
No, not quite. Actually, that would be my daughter’s profile. I would categorize her as a picky eater. She will only eat cheese melted (not solid), plain Cheerios (Honey Nut or Cinnamon would be torture), and hummus from the Costco sized tub only. I am pretty sure she hasn’t had a vegetable in 10 months, and she absolutely hates pasta. I could go on but this isn’t about her. My point being that most toddlers may fall into this classification of being a picky eater, where they only want to eat a select group of foods.
Now, let’s move on to my son’s definition of feeding problems. At age 2.5, he doesn’t know how to chew and still drinks from a bottle. The kid is a beast when it comes to eating a variety, but everything has to be made into a texture that doesn’t require chewing. Basically, the food processor is a staple in our home. I have been amazed at the concoctions he has wolfed down too. Salmon and brown rice. Lentils and Apples. Lamb and potatoes. Burritos, blended. Chicken Pot Pie, blended.
As for the bottle, we had attempted every sippy, straw and drinking cup known on the market. I even duct-taped one of his bottles, just to add a bit of change to his preferred vessel of liquid, and he refused to drink from it. I knew I had major problems at that point.
For over a year, I recognized his eating was a major issue. My son was diagnosed with ASD at 17 months and we had dove into early intervention, even before the diagnosis. While he made huge progress in speech and social engagement, my son had hit a plateau in the feeding department. Actually, I think his skill level was equivalent to a 9 month old.
I had seen a few specialists in Carroll and Frederick County, but the sessions were beyond worthless. A speech therapist claimed he had a tongue-tie, which was blatantly untrue. He could touch his nose with his tongue. Needless to say, she didn’t make the cut. Another “feeding specialist” wasted two hours of my life by spending the entire 2 sessions engaging my son with toys, with a closing attempt before we left to try to have him open his mouth for a chewy tube (For those of you who have no idea what this is, see here http://chewytubes.com/products/chewy-tubes/ This is a tool to assist with biting and chewing skills). After the second session, I walked out the door with a thought bubble of “what the hell did we just accomplish?” Sorry lady, but you definitely didn’t make the cut.
In the back of my mind, I knew I had to call in the big-guns. My OT from the local Infant and Toddler program had informed me of the Kennedy Krieger Feeding Clinic in Baltimore when we had first started the IAT program. The Outpatient program consisted of 8 consecutive weeks, from 8:30-4:30. Basically, a full work day. But who has time for that? I had another child too—what would I do with her for 8 weeks? And driving back and forth into Baltimore everyday with a toddler? No, this wasn’t an option I was even remotely entertaining.
But the summer of 2015 came and went, and I was over it. I didn’t want to wash out another damn bottle, and I was so ready to retire the food processor. We had been seeing a behavior specialist once a week in Baltimore to help with the chewing, but I knew we needed more intensity and consistency to make quicker progress.
Kennedy Krieger Feeding Clinic, let’s do this.
I had mentally checked- in and had committed myself. While this may seem like a selfish notion, I did not want to uproot the family dynamic for 2 months. My daughter would ultimately rotate between grandparents, and my son and I would be spending our days in a hospital. Luckily, I am self-employed so I had the flexibility to make the schedule work.
Now, let’s fast-forward to present day. Week 7/8 of the Outpatient program.
I had spoken to numerous parents who had completed the program before we had entered in mid November of 2015, and I had always received the same feedback. “It sucked, but my child had made huge progress.”
Yes, it has sucked but he has made major advancements. Our main goals for him to achieve were to chew and to migrate him off the baby bottle. Check and check! He has taken to the straw cup and is chewing a large variety of foods. Crackers, grilled cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, grapes, pasta. This may sound absurd to most parents, whose children have been devouring these types of foods since they could walk.
A quick PSA for the KKI Feeding Clinic too…..before we had intake, I envisioned my son being strapped down to a table while they shoved food down his mouth. I envisioned him throwing up, and they would scoop up the vomit and make him eat it. Straitjacket and all.
Contrary to my crazy belief, the entire staff is beyond wonderful, caring, and most important, true experts in what they do. Patients travel all across the country to come to this feeding program for a reason. The OT’s, SLP’s, Behavior Specialists and Nutritionists all work collaboratively to accomplish the same goals, and they will also listen to what your needs are so you can adapt the skills to your everyday home setting.
With one more week to go, I am beyond ready to return to our everyday norm. I am so grateful that we made the decision to undergo the Outpatient program, aka feeding boot-camp. The program taught him the skills that most of us take for granted, or that most of us thought was an innate skill to possess. My son continues to amaze me every day by his strength, ability to learn, and resilience to change. I don’t worry as much as I used to about his future and independence because I am reassured that he has the capability to overcome any obstacle in way. He has proven this in the past 7 weeks, without much resistance.
On to my next challenge—strong-willed, picky sister. Or better yet, I may just join her party and feast on Veggie Stix and grilled cheese sandwiches.