OT: When it’s OK to Play With your Food

Another week, another set of appointments. I sometimes think I tell time not by the date but by the events. Is this a PT week or an OT week? Is Claire at home or daycare this week? The passing of months is marked not by the first of the month and change of the calendar, but by the audiology appointment. A good week has only 1 appointment in it, and those are about to become even more rare. In fact, for the next few weeks, they’ll be non-existent.

We had our first official Occupational Therapy appointment this week. Eric would have loved it; the majority of it was spent making a huge mess. We’re playing with our food, now, and calling it homework.

There was no real answer to why he’s taking so long to move to table food, only acknowledgment that he definitely is. Part of it is his own pre-conceived notions: good food comes out of jars, on spoons, and I don’t have to do anything but open my mouth. He was great about opening up for her to try foods, which was a very good sign she said; his openness means it will be easier to work with him. His ability to spit things right back out at us is also a huge blessing, because typically once kids are able to spit things out, they’re more willing to try things with the knowledge they can get rid of it if they don’t like it.

So you’ve got a toddler that refuses to feed himself and eat table foods. What do you do? I learned a lot yesterday.

  • Ditch the jars. The longer he is fed out of jars, the more likely he is to believe that all good food comes out of jars and he’ll be leery of anything else. So far, we haven’t run into this a whole lot, but I can’t argue the logic. We have a million little plastic bowls and will now be putting them to good use!
  • Work on one thing at a time. One of the things a lot of people do with their babies is to introduce something totally foreign: a new taste and texture at the same time. This works for a lot of kids, but when you have a child that is resisting table food or has some oral sensory stuff, that’s a bad combination. Take current favorites and add texture, or take new foods and use a food processor or fork to get them to almost baby food consistency. Once he’s used to taste or texture, work on the other half gradually.
  • Mix it up. A great way to work on texture is to take something like graham crackers and crumble them into a current favorite. If he is fine with fine crumbles, make them a little bigger, then a little bigger. Push the envelope a little, slowly, and work your way from all baby food with a bit of cracker to all cracker with a bit of baby food.
  • Don’t push when he’s starving. If he is extremely hungry, any attempts will just make him more frustrated. The trick to this is to keep meal time fun and enjoyable while still urging him along. Meals should never be a battle. The best time to play with this stuff is snack times, or meal times after he’s already had 1/4-1/3 of what he typically eats at that meal.
  • Don’t hide food. There’s a strong urge to hide what you’re doing from resistant kids. This can make them leery to try anything, though, because they don’t know what tricks are waiting for them. Make sure he can see things being crumbled and going into the baby food, and has full vision to what is in his bowl, so he isn’t surprised that it’s different.
  • Play with food – after meals. She said one of the best times for kids to explore food is right after they’ve eaten, because they’re content and there’s no sense of urgency. After meal time, if he’s fine with staying in his chair for a while, give him some food to explore. Baby food to mush between his fingers, crackers to play with, anything. Some babies want to have more awareness of food – smell, feel, sight – because they are willing to put it in their mouth.

We’re going to be working on a lot of this stuff, and also be receiving in the next few weeks some “chewy tubes” that will help Danny build up jaw strength. He has never really mouthed toys much, only starting that recently, and that’s a key part of building oral motor skills. There may be some mild sensory stuff going on with Danny too, but some of it she thinks is that he just doesn’t know what he can do yet, things like chewing back where his molars are/will be. The tubes are things he can chew on, varying soft to harder, and he can dip in food to get that concept too. She tried to get him to use the spoon to feed himself and he screamed and cried and hollered like he was a little prince, but was more than happy to pick it up to dump it and be rid of it.

Along that tangent, on the other side of OT – fine motor skills – she watched him play for a few minutes and commented, “Well, his fine motor skills are right on track!” He was showing off terribly, stacking and unstacking his favorite pans and doing some shape sorting. Once we get a little further, we’ll look at his left hand being a bit weaker, and get him using it more to assist. Like most others, though, she said that the fact that he will use it to bear weight and to reach and play when the right is restricted is a great sign that it’s a most likely just a strong preference for his right hand.

He’s not going to be a lefty.

In hearing news, audiology was this week. Danny has had both processors going for a few weeks now and has adjusted well, showing pretty equal audibility in single ear conditions for both sides. I wasn’t at the session this month, but Dad reported he’s testing now around 20dB to speech (a level about equal to ambient noises in a house at night), and tested down at 10dB for a train whistle. TEN DECIBELS. Even if it’s just on certain frequencies and pitches – wow.

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