Halloween is the time of year kids love to dress up as their favorite princess, villain, superhero, you name it.
A few years ago, for our preschool’s Halloween parade, one of the little girls I was working with, Chloe, came to school in a superhero costume. I remember thinking what a perfect costume for a little girl who had persevered through so much in her life already. Chloe was born premature at 23 weeks. She spent 7 months in the hospital before her parents were told she could be discharged home. Although Chloe was cleared to be discharged, one of the requirements was that she had to have a feeding tube placed so that she could maintain adequate nutrition and thrive. Once she was home, Chloe began receiving speech and feeding therapy through early intervention. At the age of 2, Chloe suffered a stroke and her feeding progress came to standstill.
I began working with Chloe when she entered the preschool program at three years old. She was being fed primarily through her feeding tube and had very little interest in any food or drink. In fact, Chloe became extremely anxious and upset when any new food or drink was placed near her. She would yell, say “no”, push her chair away from the table and cry. There were a lot of contributing factors as to why Chloe had such negative feelings towards food and I knew we had a long road ahead of us.
Reducing mealtime stress is extremely important. My first goal of feeding therapy with Chloe was to let her explore different foods with different colors, smells, textures and tastes. We played with food and got messy! Yes, playing with food is and should be allowed, especially for those children who are picky eaters or have significant feeding difficulties. I knew it was important for Chloe to be able to learn about food from the outside before she would be comfortable placing it in her mouth. The more Chloe interacted with these new foods, the more willing she was to try new foods and to partake in mealtime situations with her peers. She began sitting at the table with her peers during snack and lunch and would explore and sometimes try new foods on her own. Being at the table with her peers gave her exposure to the sights, smells and sounds that surround mealtime.
It also gave her the positive experience of peer interaction and the ability to go at her own pace. Throughout therapy, we continued to work on improving the variety and amount of food she would eat. We also focused on improving her chewing skills and her ability to drink.
Chloe’s family and I worked together to ensure carryover of strategies at home and she had ongoing consultations with her Gastroenterologist. I remember her mom writing me after I asked her to send in lunch for Chloe. She couldn’t believe after 4 years of eating little to nothing by mouth, she was now packing her a lunch. By the time Chloe had graduated preschool her tube feedings were discontinued. She was eating and drinking a variety of food and drinks. A few months later her feeding tube was removed.
Chloe turns 8 this month and I have been fortunate enough to stay in touch with her family. I get to celebrate in the joy her mom feels when she eats pizza and cake at her friend’s birthday party. I get pictures of her food adventures from Chinese food to Calamari and the crumbs she leaves over from clearing her plate. Chloe, has worked so hard and come so far. She may have “dressed up” as a superhero for our preschool parade that Halloween, but Chloe is a superhero all year round.