I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I’ve been asked this question. It is an issue that I love to tackle in collaboration with the families that I work with mostly because when progress is made, it makes such a dramatic difference in the well-being of the entire family.
Behavioral and sensory issues of a child with special needs can further complicate the ordinary mealtime struggles of a parent of a small child. Parents are often torn between the interventions outlined for them by therapists and the reality of everyday life. This usually means that at the end of the day, just getting the child to eat anything and by any means necessary. No one is happy when mealtime becomes a battle zone. Use of a token economy or escape extinction is most common and can work if implemented consistently. However, I am always impressed when I come across new and creative approaches to food and feeding issues.
One such example of creativity comes from my experience with a great family and their two young boys that I worked with for several years. Their mother was a force to be reckoned with when it came to approaching the introduction of new foods and organizing play dates. I don’t remember how it started, or if it was a conscious plan but the weekly play dates she organized for socialization quickly evolved into preschool foodie events. The children were much more likely to try new foods and like them when their peers were trying them too. It was also a great opportunity to work through sensory aversions and begin to enjoy getting messy. I was recently reminded about these special food play dates when I came across a post on https://special-needs.families.com about a food centric play group started by some parents in Texas.
Currently I am experimenting with new ways to expand the diets of the children on my caseload as well as improving my own health through my food choices. My own mantra for health is to “Eat the Rainbow” so that I make sure I get a nice mix of fruits and vegetables. In my research I came across a great book for one child who has a strong interest in letters. The book is “Eating the Alphabet” by Lois Ehlert and it has inspired a new token economy type system for him and his siblings. Check out the template for the chart in the DRL Downloads! All you have to do is add your child’s picture and a picture of anyone else in the family wanting to participate, laminate, start checking off new foods with a dry erase marker and let the eating begin!
What have you tried?