Over the time we’ve been working with S., our Food Friend, we’ve worked gently toward several goals. The list has evolved, and some of the early goals fell off the list and some have stayed. For instance, one early goal that we retired was noodles because – sweet jeebus – what child doesn’t like pasta? Mine, it turns out. It’s too wet, too wobbly. It was too far-fetched a goal, so we put it on a back, back burner and turned toward some goals we thought were more achievable, like finger painting, self-feeding with utensils, and (target food) breads.
For most kids, time is an all-important ingredient in working through sensory issues, and this is true for the tot. Maybe it’s because the passage of time also brings with it a maturation of her body and brain. Maybe it’s because during this time, HG and I have altered our approaches to food and feeding the tot, as well as our reactions to her reactions. Maybe it’s because these past almost-two years have seen her exposed to so many textures and tactile sensory experiences that she is becoming desensitized – which is what we wanted. Probably it’s a combination of all of these things, and that’s fine, except when people ask me what’s working. (My stock answer, BTW, is “Hell if I know.”)
So here we are. Time has passed. Progress has happened. What I am constantly re-learning is that the tot’s predominant pattern is burst-lull, lull-lull-lull-burst-lull. It’s not just in therapy areas – she did this when she was learning to walk, too. She started to walk. She walked for a few days. Then she wasn’t interested in it anymore. Then a week later, I go in to her bedroom to see just exactly what all this supposed-to-be-naptime ruckus was, and it was the tot. She was staggering back and forth, the length of her crib, with the wildest grin ever. She was practicing in a controlled space.
Of course, you know the words that went through my mind after days of plying her to walk and meeting only resistance: “Why you little shit.” On the outside, I was all wild grins too.
So let’s talk about some bursts.
I’m not sure when it happened (I can say it happened slowly), but the tot is now kind of digging finger painting. She asks to paint almost every day now. I don’t let her, that’s me being Mean Mommy, but the point is that she wants to. And even when I provide brushes and sponges, she always asks to get paint on her hands to make hand prints. This is huge.
The therapeutic point of working on finger painting is for the tactile sensation and the desensitization to mess (for me and her, people) with the hopes that she would tolerate messier foods on her hands as well as art products. On the whole, it is working, particularly in the area of anxiety management. When she reaches tolerance capacity with either paint or wet something on her hand or fingers, she no longer immediately flips out. She uses words to ask me to wipe it off. I, by request of S., dilly dally and talk about gosh, what could we use to wipe it up? Oh, a napkin? Great idea! Now, where can we find one of those? And by this time, she is no longer worried about the paint/food/liquid. She still wants it gone, but she is coping by focusing on solving the problem rather than being overwhelmed by it.
I can’t say that there is any therapeutic reason for working on self-feeding with utensils. That seems to me to be pretty straightforward, so I’ll just share some of my thoughts, bullet-style.
*Honestly, I don’t care how she gets food to her mouth. Certainly she needs to know how to use a fork without putting an eye out (what on earth would you tell the ER doc? “Yes, Doctor, my 15-year-old is just learning to use a fork. What? That’s wrong?”), but when we’re home, I couldn’t care less. If she wants to scoop food up in her fingers and then smack her lips while she licks the mess off her fingers, well dammit, more power to her.
*She doesn’t really like to use utensils, but she almost always wants her own set. I think that is funny. Except when we’re at a restaurant and they only gave us two sets.
*It seems like she should be better at using them because her fine motor skill is pretty good, but really she’s pretty awful still. And the spilling of food off a fork or spoon pisses her off. More practice necessary, I guess.
Lastly, breads. Ah, breads. S. wanted to work toward breads since they presented a medium challenge. The bread group includes bread, toast, waffles, cake-type products, pancakes, breadsticks, etc. Bread is a challenge because it is soft and sometimes chewy. The challenge, S. and I agreed, was not so so great because bread is not (barring the application of another food product) wet, overly sloppy, or squishy (like noodles). Bread is an important target food because it is everywhere. I mean, what does a kid eat for lunch if they won’t touch sandwiches or pizza? And don’t say mac and cheese.
We tried a lot of things, again and again. We tried involving her in prep by playing with bread dough, making shapes, and baking it together. Even once she started touching the bread dough, it was still not enough investment for her to do more than pick up the baked bread and set it down without putting it to her mouth.
One thing that did get her manipulating pancakes, though, has been to make letters for her to play with. She’s into the alphabet and reading right now, and I’ve been using that to at least get her handling the soft pancakes. I don’t think she’s done more than put one to her lips, just to touch, but that is progress too, so we’ll count it.
Then, three or four weeks ago, on a single weekend, she dove headlong into the bread category. Boom. Burst.
That Sunday evening, I wrote an email to S.
“Here is what she ate this weekend:
puppy chow* – chowed the remaining with help of daddy
wheat toast (with butter) (at a restaurant)- three bites
blueberry muffin (gigantic) (at the same restaurant) – many many bites, with a fork
Lego eggo waffle – at least two bites the first time; one or two again last night
Mickey Mouse cheese shape – put teeth marks in the first time; took one small bite, chewed it, swallowed it last night
banana nut muffins (mini muffins from grocery bakery) – she’s had three now: the first she shied away from, the second she picked at, the third (today) she ate the top off of
chocolate no-bake cookies (from grocery bakery) – she really wanted them and managed to push through the texture factor to eat them
oatmeal raisin cookies (soft, from grocery bakery) – she took 1/2 of [HG’s] and wouldn’t give it back
burger king nuggets and fries (slightly more bendy than McD’s) – she’s working on these right now”
(Normally, I don’t send a record of what she eats to S., but holy cow – what a burst! I had to share.)
Since then, well, she’s picked at some toast, eating a bite or two at most. She has picked at a muffin again, but she’s also pushed many away. No more cheese, and we haven’t had the cookies or the puppy chow in the house again since.
It’s hard to know where to go from here. Well, that’s not true. I know that I need to keep presenting her with these foods so that they become familiar, and she’ll start eating them again. But. We’re in the lull phase now, and that is so frustrating. I think that I am like most parents in that I hate to waste food, and that is exactly what happens in the lull phase. The food goes in the trash. But there’s no guaranteed timetable for when the next burst comes, and I sure don’t want to miss it.
*Puppy Chow – we had made it a couple of days before for the first time. She didn’t want it at first, but then… and she’s asked for it twice since then.
Here is the version we made:
1 stick butter
12 oz. jar peanut butter
12 oz. pkg. butterscotch chips
melt these three things together in microwave
stir in large box rice chex
put in a large paper grocery bag with 1 lb. of powdered sugar and shake well
eat, eat, eat.