My 14-year-old daughter, Chloe, has always been orally defensive. She has a swallow dysfunction and lacks the coordination needed for chewing solid foods. She has a history of aspirating liquids. These difficulties combine to make mealtime a challenge.
For years, Chloe has survived on Pediasure—prescribed by her gastrointestinal doctor. Her old, daily standby was Gerber baby oatmeal cereal mixed with one of her bottles of Pediasure. She ate the oatmeal for at least 2 meals a day.
Sometimes, she would eat applesauce or yogurt—and then go months at a time refusing both. That was the extent of her diet for years: applesauce, yogurt, Pediasure, and baby food oatmeal. While I was confident that she was receiving the nutrition she needed from the Pediasure supplements, I wished she would eat a variety of foods.
Feeding therapy helped for a short time. A speech therapist and an occupational therapist allowed Chloe to play with her food while getting accustomed to it; she was never forced to eat anything. The therapist introduced chocolate pudding and sometimes crumbled graham crackers on top of the pudding. Sometimes, Chloe would eat a few bites; sometimes, she wouldn’t.
The therapist always encouraged Chloe to touch her food with her fingers, to explore and make a mess. The therapist even allowed Chloe to drive a matchbox car through the pudding and graham crackers one day. Every interaction with food was considered a success.
Over the years, I continued to successfully add foods to Chloe’s repertoire. She started enjoying chocolate milkshakes and refried beans—both items available at a drive-thru that she could request while we were out and about. Chloe’s eating these items made travel and days of errands so much easier.
Once we had the steady, standby foods that Chloe enjoyed, I could start working on some non-preferred foods. My method was asking Chloe to take 2 bites, or 5 bites, of a new food with the promise of getting the preferred food afterwards. That approach was sometimes successful.
Little by little, we added foods and tastes. However, we have still not been successful with adding any texture. Chloe continues to eat a strictly pureed diet. Today, Chloe eats the same foods the rest of the family eats – I just blend it up in the Magic Bullet and make sure it’s not too hot, before serving it to her.
She has certainly come a long way! But it has taken years to get here. It has been a learning experience and I’m so proud of her and of us!
You can find many more blogs like this one that will help you navigate your child’s life.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.