Monday, June 29, 2009


That word strikes fear in the heart of many a mom with a sensory child. Surprises and SPD do not go together, causing an entire meltdown which may not be resolved until the following day.

First, your family needs to know that surprises are a bad idea. If they insist, tell them you will not be able to attend the function unless you are informed in advance of exactly what will transpire. This may take a sacrifice on your part. It may ruffle feathers, and it may make you unpopular, but you are your child's first line of defense. So try to get the information ahead of time.

But that said, life is full of little surprises. Flat tires, relatives dropping in, new babies, swimming pools being closed for cleaning, a stop at McDonald's and chicken pox. All surprises, and not all happy ones. How do you avoid the 3 hour fit that ensues?

The thing that has helped us most is desensitizing my son. To do that is a daily conscious effort on our part. Start early. As a sensory parent, you are probably doing most of these things already, but if you are not, here are some tips.

1. Practice the same schedule on weekends as during the week for wake up time/bed-time/meal-time. Do not vary the diet from day to day. Don't feed junk food on the weekend and none during the week. Same same same. as much as possible.

2. Early to bed, early rise. Try to have afternoons to rest or free play at home. If there is going to be a surprise, if you have control over it, try to make it in the morning. I will speak on stress hormones later, but the stress hormones are more active in the a.m., so everyone is better able to cope with stress early in the day. by 3 p.m. they are too low for your child to handle anything out of the ordinary.

3. Decompression time each day. That means a quiet environment to play freely. Also outside active time each day.

4. Deep pressure. Deep pressure is your friend. Use weighted blankets, vests, or cover your child with heavy pillows and firmly press him. Pressure is calming to the propreception sense and your child needs it.

5. Brushing and joint compressions daily. I will blog about this technique soon.

6. Prepare before you leave the house on each thing that will happen today. Give him a list. Tell him that sometimes life throws things at us that we do not expect. Once every 3 times you go out to run errands, put the word "surprise" on the list. Then make the surprise-stop fun. A stop for a cookie, or a sonic drink. A toy store run where you get something small for them. If your child maintains their composure, praise them. If not, don't scold. Say "you must be very frustrated as that was not what you expected." Acknowledge their feelings but move on.

7. When life hands you a surprise that is NOT fun...flat tire, unexpected Dr. Visit. Be very matter of fact. If your child can read, take your child's' list and add the word "surprise" in. Hand it back to them and tell them that you know he doesn't like surprises, and tell him, you at times do not like surprises either. Give them a choice of what you might do when the crisis is over. (You must remain calm and non-effected by the event. the less you react, the better.)

8. Pack a 'surprise' bag. Include a favorite stuffed animal, earplugs, a body-brush, a chewy tube or straw/gum, and fidget items. If there are things he loves, put those in the bag only to be pulled out when surprises happen.

Desensitize him first, and next make the child look forward to surprises as times when he is rewarded, praised or otherwise made more comfortable.

So many times parents of sensory kids must shield the child from situations which might trigger episodes of tantrums or nervousness. Remember that a child with SPD...every day living is a challenge which is almost too much to bear. The balance is so precarious that one proverbial straw breaks the camels' back. As the parent, you know when you have reached your limit, when one more thing sends you over the edge. Now imagine yourself as an SPD child, at that state all day, every day.

What we as parents must do is to make the child better able to deal with life. Life is literally full of surprises, good and bad. A child that is somewhat shielded from this can handle occasions that are unavoidable. A Spd child desensitized and in balance the rest of their day can better cope with the unexpected. An understanding parent can also create a sense of stability, and the child will know that no matter what life throws at him, he can compensate.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More suggestions for eating.

Now I would like to tackle the actual eating experience, so that you can use all the tools in your arsenal to tackle the battle that is dinnertime. Certain parts of the dining experience can be key to controlling the meal and making it go the direction that you, the parent, want it to go. Common sense says that peaceful meals make things taste better and don't give you stomach aches. The same is true for your child.

There are also nutritional fixes, natural things, that may cure many stomach issues occurring with your child..which you may not even be aware of! More on that later.

Let's start with the environment. Make sure:

1. Use a calm voice and don't turn on the TV while you eat.

2. Try other rooms to eat in. Many times Kitchens have smells that overload your child's sensitive nose.

3. serve the food on non slip plates. Do not place all the food on the table. Serve everyones' plate then bring it to the table. Again the smells and textures are more easily handled in SMALL amounts...

4. Use different utensils. Many times stainless steel forks/spoons are too much (sharp edges, too cold/hot) for a sensitive child. there are other options for utensils, rubber tipped spoons, small forks, even chopsticks have been used successfully by sensory kids.

5. Small portions. Small bites. Small steps. All important at mealtimes.

6. bring a doll or stuffed animal to the table to 'try' the food first.

7. No power struggles please. No threatening. No scolding. You will cause the opposite to happen with your sensory child and he will shut down, or revolt and you will have more issues the next meal. remember, calm voice, firm, calm demeanor. small steps.

8. Praise a lot. when they touch a new food, praise them. praise them for sitting through the meal.

9. use a disc-o-sit in the chair to give them the chance to move around at the table. ESPECIALLY out to eat.

10. write down exactly what he or she eats on a daily basis and get some help from a nutritionist if necessary.

11. Try feeding your child before the rest of the family...if you are trying something new, and make it non threatening. Just put it in front of him and continue cooking and prepping the meal. Many times the no stress environment does the trick.

Now, additional nutritional issues that might be happening.

Has your child had lots of antibiotics? More than 3 rounds?

Does he or she complain of frequent stomach aches?

Does he or she want scrambled eggs all the time? Or crave fatty foods, like cheese, butter, pizza?

Does he or she complain that their 'bones hurt?'

Does he crave very spicy or flavorful foods?

Does he or she complain about stomach aches or have gas frequently, especially after milk products?

General digestion problems?

If You said yes to the antibiotic question. Highly likely your child has a yeast overgrowth. Your doctor will poo poo the idea, but I believe it can be fixed with natural organic yogurt or chewable Acidopholis bacteria. The antibiotics kill bacteria, and they also kill bacteria you need to digest food. Replacing that bacteria can make the digestion work properly again.

yes to the stomach aches and general digestion problems? Again, yogurt and digestive enzymes (at GNC, capsules, empty them into pudding or yogurt..) The enzymes give their stomach a 'helping hand' and will improve your childs' digestion and with it, their attitude for eating.

For the scrambled eggs, fatty food questions...the brain is lined with lecithin. Eggs contain it. and the body tends to crave the things that are deficient. Fatty foods could mean an omega 3 deficiency...which is remedied by more fish, flax-seed oil or supplements. Coromega makes one that tastes like pudding.

Bones hurting can also signal EFA essential fatty acids are deficient. Vitamin D could also be a cause. 15 minutes of sunlight a day without sunscreen on will fix Vit D problems.

Spicy cravings are oftentimes caused by zinc deficiency...zinc supplements are available and will help. These cravings are often associated with kids that do not like meat products.

Gas or stomach distress after milk products usually signal lactose intolerance. the digestive enzymes mentioned above will fix the problem if eaten with the milk product.

go to to read more about enzyme supplementation. has disc o sit and alternative utensils to use at mealtimes.

GNC or your neighborhood drugstore carries enzymes and acidopholus is found at major retailers including walmart. Stonyfield farms is the best brand of yogurt with beneficial bacteria to boost immune systems.

I hope this answers some of your questions on eating . If you have additional ones, please ask.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Eating Issues, Part 2

Ok. So you have tried all the above suggestions and nothing works. You are pulling your hair out and the tantrums have reached all-time highs. You are ready to throw in the towel and give in.

My advice is, do. To an extent.

You can take away some of the bad stuff while you are learning how to adjust to new foods. For instance, my son loves chicken nuggets. So I might serve chicken nuggets (either home-made or a good organic brand) every other night in order to get my child's protein requirement in. The bad stuff, in this case, might be the additives or nitrites (in the case of hot dogs.) However, consider this..chicken nuggets have both protein and zinc. Both are important to feeling well, muscle growth and wellness. So perhaps I have 'given in' to chicken nuggets, but I also know he is getting a quality protein with other important nutrients.

We also might try a new food, or if the food looks and tastes "yucky" we regroup and are given a choice of a healthy alternative...i.e. organic fish sticks, quality peanut butter and low sugar jelly, etc. Then mealtimes can be pleasant and remain a place to 'try' new things...not be forced. Forcing a sensory child seldom works, usually time and familiarity fix things.

Another thing I have learned is which vegetables are "ok" and which are really not. My son loves green beans, but refuses tomatoes. Likes carrots raw, but cooked will not touch them. So we compromise, and yes it does mean sometimes that dinner is unconventional and a bit more work for mom. However, if you are fighting with your sensory child over dinner, it is time to stop and make it something you both look forward to, instead of dread.

If vegetables are just not an option, sneak them in! Or compromise and have more fruits if that is what your child will eat.

Your child will need the following at meals. A protein, a carbohydrate and a fruit or vegetable. How you do that will largely be determined by the child, the day and the foods he or she can tolerate. Breakfast can be unconventional...peanut butter and jelly is how we start our day. My son doesnt like eggs..never has. We have tried all carbohydrate breakfasts but they make him feel terrible. peanut butter is a good compromise and a complete protein.

Lunch can be the same every day, but make sure there is a carbohydrate, pasta, bread, rice etc, and a protein ...meat, fish, chicken, ham turkey, cheese, eggs etc. then add a fruit or a veggie.

Family dinners are challenging. Your child may be trying very hard to try and like the things offered. Remember that every day and every meal for a sensory sensitive child is a challenge. He wants to please you, he just cannot due to all the sensations that are flooding his mouth.

tomorrow I will offer other tips for children for that 'fussy' evening meal. And additional suggestions for modifications of utensils, environment, etc.

"He'll eat when he is hungry" ...or maybe not

I am sure you have heard the "just hold out and he will eat when he is hungry" advice. But for your sensory child, eating and all that goes with it are a field of land mines. Normal kids have normal hunger and satiety feelings and responses. Unfortunately, any parent of a sensory kid knows..there is nothing normal about life with a sensory child!

So this blog will be dedicated to some helpful advice on dining. In and out of the home.

First, let me say that many things go into the eating process which your (and my) child is ill equipped to do. Biting chewing and swallowing takes over 26 different muscles, and if your child has motor planning problems, this is an incredibly difficult task. The child may take tiny bites, or over-stuff his mouth (my sons' problem) because he cannot feel the food in it. Food and saliva sometimes collect between gum and lips, causing gum disease and crooked teeth.

The following is a common diet for a sensory child.

dry cereal and juice for breakfast
crackers grapes for lunch
peanut butter sandwich for dinner

there is a milk version that includes many milk foods, mac and cheese, cereal and milk, bagel cream cheese and juice.

Obviously neither diet nutritionally sufficient for growing brains or bodies. ( This will be 3-4 part blog series on eating, so read on! )

If your child has the following problems, you need professional help from a PT or OT (physical therapist/occupational therapist) trained in sensory stimulation and sensory processing.

not gaining weigh properly

cant join the family in regular activities unless specially accommodated with eating.

looks pale or unhealthy

frequently sick with a runny nose or cough

chronically moody/temper tantrums about food

eats mostly pasta cereal or crackers for dinner

frequent gastrointestinal problems...constipation, diarrhea

gags regularly

There are things a parent can do to help a child's nutritional choices and his nutrition. With-holding food that the child will eat for things he wont (he'll eat whats' served or nothing) is dangerous, as it can cause all sorts of health problems. So don't listen to friends' advice or your mothers'....about how to get him to eat. It won't work and it will make him sick. So what is a mom or dad to do? Here are some tips.

1. One new food at a time. ONE. to increase familiarity. If it is on his plate several times a week then he may get curious.

2. One bite. Just one..let her spit it in a napkin if she hates it.

3. Praise and reward for licking food. Yes just licking.

4. make a picture collage of the food they hate. (have them cut out the pics and glue on!) talk about the food in a happy way.

5. then have the child eat in a room with the food in sight. then on a dish close to him, then on his plate. then have the child touch with her finger, tongue, etc.

6. Buy 'jelly belly' beans in different flavors. Try one a time. have him identify the flavor. Make it a game. make it fun.

7. Condiments are your friend. use ketchup, Parmesan cheese, yogurt, mustard, soy sauce. Have him experiment with what he would like to try.

8. Fresh fruit usually tastes better and has a better texture than canned. Bananas are high sugar, and many sensory kids cannot bear the texture. So don't force bananas. Serve fruit cold or frozen to wake up the palette.

9. Vary the temperature. See if he or she prefers her food lukewarm cold or hot. then serve it that way.

10. Make a smoothie from fresh fruit, ice, milk and vanilla frozen yogurt. (frozen strawberries work great in this) Throw in some protein powder in a vanilla or chocolate flavor (one or one/half scoop). Make it thick and give him a straw to suck it through. The sucking is calming and the smoothie tastes like dessert....only you know it isn't. This is a great choice for a snack or if your child is not a breakfast eater.

11. V-8 makes a juice that tastes GREAT and is made from veggies and fruits. There are several flavors, try them all to see which one your child likes best. One serving of fruit and vegetable per 8 oz glass.

12. Avoid drinking milk, juice and sugary drinks between meals as it will kill their appetite. Too much during meals can also restrict what they eat (we have discovered that water is the best!)

13. If your child refuses water....make a spritzer. Put an ounce of cranberry juice in a big glass of water. Name it something "Kids' kooler" Tell them that it is just for kids. Try son loves the can put juice in it as well.
you can also infuse water with pineapple or orange slices, lemon or lime. try different flavors until one hits right.

14. Let your child make a specific food list of things he will not be forced to eat. Make sure to stick to the list. My child has potatoes, salmon (although he will eat salmon croquettes with plenty of ketchup) Brussel sprouts and broccoli on his list. I never force those foods on him.

My next blog will deal with those that have tried all the above and are still having issues eating.

Dont give up! keep trying. You will adapt and so will they.