My 3-Year-Old Lived Off A Liquid And Pureed Food Diet, But Feeding Therapy Changed Our Lives
“He’s doing well,” I responded to my hairdresser when she asked about my son. “Feeding therapy has really helped him.” My hairdresser gave me a quizzical look. “What is that? I haven’t heard of it before.”
How do I even begin to answer this seemingly innocent question? Feeding therapy has single-handedly saved my son’s life.
When he was diagnosed with Eosinophilic Esophagitis at the age of three, my son was only able to ingest liquids, pureed food, and crackers. On a daily basis, he drank milk approximately every hour and consumed around six packets of pureed pear mango baby food. He avoided even being in the vicinity of our dinner table during meals. On a good day, he would sit down and eat a couple of bites of solid food. He was irritable and constantly waking up throughout the night. It was very clear that he wasn’t getting the nutrition he needed. I did not know how my son got to this place, but I knew that he desperately needed help.
Unfortunately, it was a difficult process to get his doctor on board. “A lot of kids are picky eaters. He is not the first three-year-old I have seen who prefers certain foods.” Of course, my son’s pediatrician wasn’t taking into the account the fact that he was choking whenever he attempted to eat, and that he had lost weight.
I was so relieved when my son’s GI doctor agreed that feeding therapy was necessary. After a year and a half of enduring damage to his esophagus, which resulted in a feeding and swallowing disorder, it was time for a professional to step in. I knew the importance of early intervention and of re-training learned behaviors before they became ingrained. My son was terrified from the traumatic effects of his disease, in which food got impacted or stuck in his esophagus. He gagged, spat out food and frequently vomited when he was in the midst of a flare-up. Mealtimes were exhausting and a whirlwind of coaxing him to eat while also feeding his baby sister and twin sister. Breakfast consisted of him refusing to eat or drinking two cups of milk; he was hungry again by the time my husband drove him to preschool.
My son’s first feeding therapist was patient, loving and kind. She made eating fun for him. She taught him to play with his food. She had a way of gently encouraging him to touch, lick, or kiss a bite of a new food. She alleviated his fears of a new food by putting bites of a taco in a four-sided square toy.
My son’s diet was so limited that he needed to drink an amino acid-based formula. After several failed attempts, I found a specialized formula free of allergens. However, he would only drink a few sips of his “grape drink” at a time. I enlisted my son’s therapist to increase his formula intake. During his next session, the feeding therapist brought out a scale so that he could weigh his drink after a few sips. My son smiled triumphantly as he watched the numbers on the scale change.
She incorporated a card deck for him to play with trying a new food. He was encouraged to eat the number of bites that each card corresponded to. Week after week, day after day, meal after meal, bite after bite, I did everything in my power to carry over these strategies at home. Meals lasted roughly an hour at a time, but my son began to make progress in his ability to tolerate varying textures and types of food.
His second feeding therapist was engaging, animated and bright. She had a strict, unwavering approach and expected my son to adhere to her rules. She broke down his barriers with food in such a unique way. He was brimming with enthusiasm as he happily ate each bite of food on a pirate themed dinner tray board game.
Of course, there were some setbacks along the way. He had varying reactions to several of the foods he tried in feeding therapy, ranging from vomiting to acid reflux to stomach pain that left him curled up in a ball on the floor. Through trial and error, I discovered that my son was unable to consume fresh fruits and vegetables, and that tap water made him sick. His feeding therapist relentlessly researched his complex condition and consulted with his team of doctors to give him the best plan of care. She realized the importance of educating others and knew that in order for him to succeed, this needed to be a collaborative effort. She went above and beyond to encourage and guide his caregivers, including my husband and his grandparents, who sat in on each feeding therapy session.
My son’s year of feeding therapy completely changed our family. It brought us closer and unified us in a fierce way. I no longer wait in anticipation for him to gag or spit out food during a meal. He now consistently asks to try new food and is a champion at eating cooked vegetables. He has generalized his strategies at home, and I love hearing him encourage his sisters at dinner. “Come on, just touch the asparagus or take a bite. It’s yummy!”
He has transformed into a happy, endearing little boy, and I am reminded every day of the many challenges he has conquered in feeding therapy. I consider each food he has gained as a small victory. I had tears in my eyes the first time that my son ate cereal for breakfast.
“Feeding therapy has taught my son to enjoy eating again,” I responded to my hairstylist. Everyone should know the benefits of feeding therapy. It has restored my son’s confidence and strength in eating, a basic skill that others take for granted.
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