By Chanda Alicea
Thanksgiving is coming and for the first time in the existence of her life, my daughter is going to eat turkey for Thanksgiving! I know it might seem like a weird or silly thing to be excited about, but I am. I am also SUPER PROUD!!
Here’s why: the journey we have been on with her and her sensory concerns as far as food goes, has been long and treacherous. She’s been in feeding therapy since before she started school. Some of you may be thinking at this point, “feeding therapy? Seriously?” The answer is yes, seriously. Now I will be the first to tell you that I like so many other parents in my position, I have been given the unsolicited parenting advice with “well in my house, if my kid doesn’t eat what we put on their plate, then they don’t eat.”
I will spare you the snarky comments that I keep to myself. I am going to take this time to tell people to PLEASE STOP WITH THIS NONSENSE!! First of all, we get it, you can’t relate and you automatically assume that we’re giving in and giving them what they want because they are just being stubborn and picky. I’m here to tell you that it’s not that simple.
Second, times are different and with time comes knowledge and understanding of underlying issues like Sensory Processing Disorder and Autism along with all the other mental health issues that kids are going through these days that our parents didn’t know about when they were raising us. It’s a known fact among parents who have children with these types of disorders, that being picky due to textural issues with food is common.
So, the next time you are in a conversation with someone who makes comments about their kid, be mindful and take a beat before you speak. Don’t jump to conclusions, because you never know the struggle people are going through with their kids and their eating habits.
Moving on…you know that phrase, “it works if you work it.” It’s true. Therapy works. Sometimes it sucks, but you have to keep at it and it will pay off. Feeding therapy has included homework and in the beginning, IT. WAS. A. NIGHTMARE. It was fraught with temper tantrums, her regretting some of the choices she made when she picked out the food item that was going to be eaten for homework, and mom (aka me) forgetting she even needed to do it until the day before or sometimes even the day of because the homework was not something that was an item we had at home or ate on the regular. But that’s life.
The BEST thing about therapy has been how great the therapists are. We work together and I am pretty much steering the boat when it comes to what they have her eating and working on. I am proud to say that we have moved from processed dinosaur chicken nuggets (don’t judge) up to chicken breasts. That’s right folks, my kid eats chicken. She’s still VERY particular about it. She doesn’t like dark meat, but I don’t even care because it’s MILES of progress from where we started. And she started as a child who would gag the second she put a piece of chicken in her mouth. Fun times!
Therapy alone is not the only reason we have come so far on this journey. Another huge key in the progress she’s made is time and social interaction since being in school. Kindergarten year she took her lunch. First grade she decided to be adventurous and try jamwhiches (think square uncrustable), and she went back and forth between lunch from home and jamwhiches at school.
This year however, she’s more open to trying a variety of new things. It’s been a lifesaver and a great way to introduce what she’s eating at school into therapy sessions as well as at home. Now despite the fact that the therapists think she’s almost ready to graduate due to all the progress she has made, she’s far from it and I kindly tell them that we still have a way to go.
Remember when I said this journey has been long. Well it’s going to continue to be that way, because in my effort to always do what’s best, we introduce one thing at a time. Sure, it’s slow going, but it’s a tactic that’s working. If it’s not broke don’t fix it right? I will admit that it’s hard to not get frustrated and compare her to a kid that has ZERO problems eating ALL the foods, but that’s not helpful and I’m more interested in focusing on the progress she’s made and how proud I am for where are compared to where we started.
In conclusion, yes, I am excited that eating chicken has led to trying turkey this year, and while she may be skeptical and have reservations about it, I know she will overcome the fear and anxiety about this new type of meat like the champ that she is. And to any parent who is going through the same struggles, I feel you. I know it’s hard. I know the frustration that comes with feeling like you’re destined to eat only at restaurants that serve that one specific thing your kid eats. But I also know that there is help. I know that it does get better. I know that your patience will be tested in ways you never imagined. I also know that you will get through it and that there are many others like us who are all here for you.
Roll with the punches, don’t give up, and don’t sweat the hoopla and the stress that comes along with preparing this day of traditional eating. Focus on those you love and those who love you. I hope everyone has a fantastic Thanksgiving whether your kid is eating what you eat or not.