The other day, I began sharing a celebration about Luke makinghis first dinner meal for our family. The fact that our six-year-old asked to make our dinner and stayed safely on-task throughout the process of doing so is noteworthy. That our boy then ate the very stir fry he had prepared without whining or complaining is even more remarkable.
I know that it might not seem like an extraordinary thing for a six-year-old to eat a stir-fry, but for our six-year-old to do so is a major breakthrough!
For years, the textures and aromas of many foods were just too much for Luke and getting him to eat healthy portions of proteins, starches and, especially, produce became increasingly challenging. Sensory issues took hold and, instead of Luke’s diet expanding with time, it became altogether too limited.
Enter Cheryl – the wonderful feeding and nutrition specialist that we have been working with for several months now. At our first meeting, she noticed a slight oral-motor coordination issue in Luke and offered us strategies to help him quickly overcome it. She also helped us tease out how much of Luke’s limited diet was based on “sensory issues” as opposed to “behavior” and “rigid thinking”.
Before long, we realized that our efforts prior to seeing Cheryl, coupled with follow-through on strategies she offered us, had taken food-related tactile defensiveness off the table for Luke. Sensory aversions were no longer at the root of Luke’s “problem”. Habit was! For while Luke’s mouth and brain no longer told him that certain textures and aromas made entire categories of foods a “no go”, his will did. Rigid, ritualized thinking had set in and it was frustrating to fight.
Despite our best efforts to only introduce (or re-introduce) "new" or "unfamiliar" foods outside of actual meal times in order to better facilitate keeping family meals a pleasant experience for all, dinner often became a debacle. Luke regularly balked and complained loudly at items on our menu, even if he had helped prepare them. Tantrums and meltdowns seemed to come out of nowhere, lasting the better part of an hour (or more!) at times over the most minute details of food presentation and choices. Something as simple as favorite familiar foods touching one another was enough to set our boy off.
Needless to say, the almost-daily food dance was disheartening and exhausting. Yet, it was not without hope. We all know that habits are challenging to change, and, I will be the first to attest that habits borne initially from sensory aversions seem doubly difficult to adjust. There’s just something about the body-brain-sensory-muscle memory connection that makes amending such patterns tricky. But, tricky is not impossible.
We continued to trust the process. Patience and persistence paid off. Our boy, who at one point was completely averse to most meat textures and extraordinarily volatile about vegetables not only ate both the other night, but ate them cooked together. A stir-fry meal that contained rice, meat and two vegetables all cooked together with eggs on the side (because he just wasn’t ready to tolerate the eggs in the mix as well) – it is an enormous and long-awaited victory in our household!
Let's hope the trend continues!.