Ben: "Mom? Can I have some chocolate chips and fruit snacks and Doritos please?Kate: "Mom!? Can I have some peaches and some red and green peppers and some carrots for snack? Make sure you give me lots of red ones! And broccoli for dinner!" (This is not a dramatization...this was a real conversation I had with my children an hour ago).
I stare at both of my children dumbfounded and wonder where I went wrong with my son and how I could have possibly done better with my daughter. Then, I wonder why it is that I am bribing my son to eat 9 grapes (since he is 9 years old) with the aforementioned junk. At least THAT answer is fairly easy.
Benjamin has feeding issues. He isn't picky in the traditional, "my kid doesn't like veggies" sense. It goes far beyond that. Some feel it is from the lack of strength in his jaw from the CP. Some feel it is one of his autistic traits, some feel it is just behavioral. One thing that I am sure of is that it is one of the worst parenting issues I have ever had to face.
When he was a baby, he left the hospital a month after Andrew because he had a difficult time with taking a bottle. He got the hang of it eventually, but feeding was still an hour long ordeal. I made all of their baby food once they transferred to solids and noticed that Ben did not like increasing textures. He tolerated some eventually and around age 1 was moving to table foods.
Then, he got a cold. He was coughing so badly that anytime he ate anything not completely puréed, he would vomit. Being fearful of my underweight, high risk preemie losing weight, I fed him baby food and yogurt to get him through his illness. After that, he refused to eat anything with texture to it.
We began very expensive feeding therapy, which only made it worse. It made him anxious at meal times and suspicious of hiding foods in the textures he would eat. At age 3, he was eating 6-8 jars of 3rd stage baby food in a sitting and supplemented his diet with yogurt and Pediasure. There was talk of feeding tubes if he did not continue to gain weight, but I was not about to give up on him learning to eat.
On Easter when he was 3.5, I walked in his room to see him scarfing down M&Ms from his Easter basket. I immediately went downstairs and threw away all baby food in my pantry. If he could eat candy, he could eat other things.
And so began the excruciatingly slow process of getting Benjamin to eat. I scoured the Internet for ideas and suggestions. I was very fearful of feeding therapy from our past encounters, but I did ask some therapists for some advice.
We started with "take a bite, get a bite." If he took a bite of a new food, he would get an M&M. It was very slow going. He would often "pocket" the food in his mouth and refuse to swallow. He would cry and I would cry. Mealtime was dreaded.
He soon learned that he liked Cheetos, graham crackers and chocolate chips. Soon after came the first real meal he ever ate...ravioli with meat sauce. That opened up a whole new world for us. We had called the ravioli "spaghetti" at first, so anything with red sauce was soon called spaghetti. He liked spaghettios, spaghetti, ravioli, and lasagna and freely ate those without any issues and eventually without bribery. We still supplemented with Pediasure daily.
He is now 9 years old and I would love to say that he eats a well balanced, completely healthy and diverse diet. While he has now expanded tremendously from his 3 year old diet of baby food and yogurt, mealtimes are often frustrating. His favorites are still red sauce based foods, but have expanded to include "chili a la spaghetti," "enchiladas a la spaghetti," and cheese pizza. He loves plain canned pumpkin (weird, I know) and loves when I add it to pancakes. Sandwiches are new within the last year or so and we are now able to get him to eat bites of most of our family meals without too much fighting. He loves chicken nuggets. He will voluntarily eat bananas and raisins and will eat broccoli, grapes and green beans fairly easily. His old rewards of chocolate chips, M&Ms, chips and fruit snacks are still items he wants on a regular basis. The most exciting event this year was the transition to milk instead of Pediasure. We have been working on that for about 2 years.
It has been a long, frustrating experience. Whereas Kate just picked up her food and ate it as a toddler, we had to fight for every bite with Ben. People just plain don't understand why we were so excited the first time Ben ate a donut or a hotdog or a bite of ice-cream... Or why I cried hysterically on the day that Kate ate her first Cheerio, which happened to be the same day Ben ate his first Cheerio.
If you are dealing with feeding issues with your special needs child, know that you are not alone and that there are those of us who understand the daily struggle. It isn't easy and is extremely emotional. Other parents don't get it because they can't. Having Kate has made me realize that there is a lot that parents of typical kids take for granted and that's just the way it is. Like so many things, you have to live it to understand it.