We really didn’t know what to expect when we pulled into the parking lot of Horizons that first day. We had all three kids with us, so that made things a bit more interesting. Our youngest and oldest children were able to play in the lobby while we went into the “gym” with our middle child, the problem feeder.
Some interesting things evolved. First, he got to play on all of the fun equipment. The therapist was letting him feel comfortable, while also watching his coordination and body language.
She put him in some interesting positions and would gently move him or pat on him. We didn’t realize at the time that she was testing his reflexes.
We sat down at a table and she pulled out a bunch of oral tools, checking the strength of his oral motor skills. After finishing up, she sent him to go play with his siblings in a nearby classroom so that we could discuss her findings in private.
She determined that he had very weak oral motor skills. His gag reflex was too far forward. It was no wonder that he was only eating foods that pretty much dissolved in his mouth or he could simply just swallow. He didn’t have the ability to handle anything more.
Speaking of reflexes, the therapist had discovered a number of reflexes that had not “integrated”. Bristling and feeling like things were about to get a bit quacky, I hesitantly listened on.
She explained that babies are born with many reflexes, some of which I’d heard about, like the Moro Reflex and the Startle Reflex. Normally, those reflexes integrate, almost as if a switch has been turned off, but some of his didn’t. She could tell that he wets the bed (even though we had never told her) because of a reflex that hadn’t integrated. I was no longer bristly. I was dumb-founded and eager to hear more.
She charted for us a pyramid of human growth and development. The foundation of the pyramid was reflexes. She explained that since some of those reflexes hadn’t integrated, there were gaps in the foundation of his development which were creating weaknesses in the subsequent layers above. It was all starting to make so much sense. I still knew that I’d made big mistakes in how I’d fed my kids, but I also was starting to see that I was right all along when I believed that there was something much more prominent (and challenging) at work with our middle child.
The plan of attack was to teach him exercises that would, with time, help those reflexes integrate. We would come back regularly for sessions in which we’d learn those. We would also learn oral motor exercises to do daily, as well. The last part of our sessions would take place in the kitchen, during which time he’d be ask to be a “food scientist”. She explained how critical it is for problem feeders to get comfortable around food, and that the way to do so is by exploring it with one’s senses. It might take quite a bit of time before the efforts paid off enough that the child could fathom putting that food in his mouth to taste it, though.
I think I’ve mentioned that when I was trying to do better by my daughter, I took baby steps by letting her touch the food, then kiss it, then lick it, nibble it, and so on. We had tried that same progression with our son, but hadn’t found the same results. Though I knew that it seemed like this was allowing a child to play with their food, I was relieved to know that I actually had been on the right track with something.
But, would he manipulate us? Would he “freak out” and refuse to stay at the table in his sessions? Would he actually look at, touch, and try new foods? We would soon see!