Saturday, March 28, 2015

Expanding Student Diets and Exploring Sensory Differences

In honor of the work the Friends and Family of Trisomy 4P did this month to
bring awareness to the disability, I wanted to share the latest milestone
of Miss Natalie, my favorite friend with Trisomy 4P.

Recently, she has expanded her diet and learned to eat finger foods!  This
may not seem like a huge achievement, but for children who have sensory
issues and the need for sameness, it is a phenomenal feat.

When I first met Natalie, her diet consisted of yogurt, pudding,
applesauce, oatmeal, and foods that were pureed to a similar consistency.
In the beginning, this was out of medical necessity.  NOTE: If you are
working with a student who has food sensitivities and/or a  limited diet,
BE SURE TO WORK CLOSELY WITH THE STUDENT'S FAMILY AND PHYSICIAN to insure that the student is ready and able to explore new foods.

After Natalie's doctors gave her the green light to expand her diet it
wasn't a quick process.  Her parents started by pureeing food a little less
smooth and adding small amounts of texture (for example, a little cupcake
crumbled into her yogurt or pudding). 

Natalie eating a yogurt and cupcake mixture at
school for her birthday with her big brother. 

This expanded her diet.  But through observation we found that Natalie was
only eating new things that were presented on a spoon.  From a very young
age that was the only way she ate, and a challenging one at that, we worked
and worked to get her to eat with a spoon independently and now we were
expecting her to change it up and she was not having it!

Natalie has always struggled with change and new experiences, for example
when she first started school she would scream or cry in the presence of
new toys and activities.  She resisted touching and interacting with most
toys, books, and puzzles.  We worked toward progress in this area by
strategically using 'put in' tasks with new materials.  'Put in' tasks were
her favorite activity and something she was very successful at so by using
an area of strength and interest we were able to expand her repertoire of
toys and learning materials, which is a whole other post. But what I want
to point out here is that we used an area of strength and interest to
further her skills in small increments.

In regard to foods, and working toward eating finger foods, we used the
same concept.  I purchased toddler yogurt drops and cereal puffs.   In the
beginning, the only expectation we had for Natalie was that she put the
toddler finger foods into a container.  This was the only skill that
existed for several months (patience is often our best friend)!

Then last summer, Natalie's amazing parents started noticing Natalie
putting dirt in her month while playing outside.  This was huge as she had
never put anything in her month via her own fingertips!

Although this picture is a little blury, I wanted to share it as this was a
make or break step in Natalie's progress.  First off, if her parents hadn't
noticed this new skill of putting dirt in her mouth, and took it as a sign
that she was ready for the next step, she wouldn't be where she is today.
Secondly, if they hadn't been so supportive of this new skill she may have
stopped progressing.  I am sure they weren't super excited she was eating
dirt but if their reaction in that moment was very alarming and concerned,
"NATALIE STOP EATING DIRT, THAT IS TERRIBLE!!"  She may have held back and
stopped putting things in her mouth. Instead, her mom did the most
ingenious thing, she brainstormed what foods looked like dirt, and created
a crumbled Oreo mixture with the consistency of dirt.

From then on the pace began to pick up, but not without a few more bumps in
the road.  Natalie became used to eating things out of a cake pan, and
would only do so from that sized pan, so her parents went to work again.
They began using smaller and smaller pans, and then moved to a bowl and
even to eating food off the table in efforts to eat out of a bag, her
hands, and off a plate like children traditional do.

Without knowing Natalie, you still may not recognize the huge achievement
this is for her, but take a moment to think about the variety of foods, and
eating opportunities we experience every day.  Natalie's old eating habits
were very limiting to her and her family.  The family had to be very
mindful when going on family trips or even when traveling out of town for
her doctor's appointments. By strategically changing Natalie's eating
habits, through hard work and perseverance, her family has opened her world
up to new opportunities.

With that I would like to bring us back to honor the families and children
affected by Trisomy 4P and other Trisomy conditions.  March is Trisomy
Awareness month but I also like to think of it as Trisomy Acceptance
month.  Whether affected by Trisomy or any other disability, every student
is a person first, who has so much to offer.  I certainly recognize this as
I reflected back on my journey with Natalie and her family.  She is a
beautiful young girl with an abundance of love and determination.  I have
learned so much from her and her family's belief in her and advocacy for
her!  For that I am truly grateful.

I wish her and her family the very best throughout the many milestones they
will achieve in the future!

Do you want to learn more about Natalie and her 4P friends? You can also
click here to read more about her home and school programming and another desensitizing technique for snack time!


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  2. Its amazinng to see Natalie's progress. Yes, patience is everything. From a sped mama with an extremely sensory picky eater.

    Vanessa at