Teens and Feeding Therapy:  An SLP’s Top Five Tips!

Making trying new foods fun for teens.

Making trying new foods fun for teens.

As a pediatric feeding therapist, it’s not unusual for me to get a call from a mother who says “My kid’s 14 years old and still eats only six foods. He’s so picky!  I thought he would grow out of it.”  True, with patience and consistent strategies, some kids do indeed grow out of the picky-eater stage, typically at its peak aro

und age three. But if the child had underlying motor, physiological or sensory challenges that stalled the developmental process of learning to eat a variety of foods, it’s not unusual that selective eating behaviors will prevail into the teenage years.  I approach treatment with teens in a similar manner as my younger clients while respecting one important fact: They are teenagers!

Here are my top five tips for interacting with teens while building trust and confidence, plus making feeding therapy successful (and fun!) for both of you:

#5  Use Cool Games:  I always incorporate games into feeding practice.  Learning to try new foods is HARD, at any age.  Including games in the process of biting, chewing and tasting keeps anxiety levels low and still allows learning to take place.  Using games as a means of distraction, such as eating while playing independently on an iPad, does not allow for conscious learning.  Instead, try using games that are reciprocal in nature and where each player’s turn lasts no more than ten seconds.  If your client is working on learning to drink a smoothie, perhaps he might take a drink, get a turn, etc.  Try Blockus, UNO Blast or  Connect-4 Launchers, all interactive and exciting games. Plus, they are easy to clean, which is important in feeding treatment.

#4 Create Your Own Games: To quote a bit of teenage lingo, find out what the teenager “is obsessed with” and create games around that obsession. Does she love three-toed sloths?  Pull up the best sloth videos on YouTube and create a Jeopardy game around them, hiding each video under categories like  “Kristen Bell for One Hundred Please.”   I once had a client who knew every Movie Production Logo in Hollywood.  His mother sent me pictures of ten favorite logos and I laminated two copies of each.  During feeding therapy in his home, we would spread out the laminated pictures all over the kitchen floor and after each bite, try to toss a penny onto a picture.  Get a match, and you get a point.  Another client of mine was obsessed with paintball, but I wasn’t about to do feeding therapy in a paintball bunker.  Instead, I brought my Discovery Toys Marbleworks® and with each bite we added one piece, eventually building intricate contraptions and using the paintballs as marbles.

#3 Ask WHY: Once I get to know a teen, I always ask this question: “Is there a special reason you want to learn to try new foods?” One teen told me that he wanted to ask his girlfriend to Prom, but was afraid that he couldn’t take her to a fancy restaurant for dinner.  “I don’t think they serve pizza there, and that’s all I know how to eat.” That was eye-opening for me!  Now I know his motivation and we have a timeline for success. When there is no motivation, that’s a problem.   It’s common for a teen to reply: “I don’t want to learn to eat anything new – my Mom is making me.”  This is the time to help a teen FIND motivation.  “How’s wrestling going?  Did you know you need protein to build more lean muscle? What types of protein would you like to learn to eat: nuts, hamburger or vegetable protein?”  One of my clients had been consisting on  four strawberry Pediasures mixed with whole milk every day for over three years before starting therapy. He used to eat some solid foods, but over time began to limit his intake until he was food jagging on Pediasure.  He didn’t see a problem, because he liked the way he could gulp down a Pediasure and rush outside during break time to play basketball with his friends. That worked for him because it enabled him to avoid social eating in the cafeteria, which made him very anxious.  I suspected that the high dairy content was making him constipated, thus decreasing appetite.  Let’s face it: A teen is not likely to tell ME about his constipation.  But, I called his pediatrician and requested that they have the constipation talk during the upcoming sports physical.  Once his doctor explained that he would no longer have to struggle with bathroom issues, which was a huge source of embarrassment for him, the teen was open to tasting some new foods.  Feeding therapy, especially with teens, goes best when we focus on the whole child and learning what’s important in his unique world.

#2  Teach positive self-talk: So many older kids engage in negative talk about food because it stops parents from serving it.  Over time, those negative comments become a habit that for lack of better term, is a form of self-brainwashing.  While it’s important to acknowledge a teen’s feelings if he says “I can’t – I’m scared I’ll gag,”  it’s just as important to help him talk positively about eating.  I explain it this way:

I want you to talk to your own brain the way you would talk to your best friend.  If your best friend had practiced with his soccer coach to take a goal kick in soccer but was feeling anxious when it came time to attempt it, he might turn and whisper to you, “I can’t – I’m scared that I’ll miss.” You’d probably tell  him “You’ve practiced with coach and you have the skills to do it!  It’s OK to be nervous – you can still make that goal!”  He needs to hear that from you.  Well, your brain needs to hear the same positive talk from you when you talk about food.  It’s OK to be nervous and it’s OK not to like the taste of it.  We’re just beginning to learn how to how to eat this new food and we are practicing it.”

And this SLP’s #1 Tip? Give Them the Script: Teens may not always have the most descriptive vocabulary, except to narrow taste and texture down to “gross.”   Give them the language and discuss what terms like savory, buttery, creamy truly mean.  A reference list of 345 terms to describe food can be found here.  Plus, it helpful to use comparison phrases such as “It’s similar to tiny dots of corn, but it’s called polenta” in order to build familiarity with a food they’ve experienced in some manner, such as corn.  If the most interaction they’ve had with corn is just staring at it, that’s OK!  Stare at the polenta.  Make it a kitchen science experiment and discuss all the properties of polenta if you need to.  Give them the words that build visual familiarity with polenta: “yellow cornmeal”, “hulled”, etc.  Talk about how it can be baked, fried, grilled or stirred into a porridge.  Interact with it – get to know it.  Now you’ve got a teen whose introducing his brain to polenta by saying: “Polenta is cornmeal, which is made from something I’m familiar with: corn.  I think it looks best when it’s fried, because I like fried foods.” He’s OPEN to the concept of Polenta because he has the terminology to describe it and understand the properties. As you progress from visual interaction to tactile exploration, provide terms that describe the feel of polenta such as “gritty” and “course.” Eventually, you’ll be discussing the same feel in the mouth.  As all SLPs know, language is empowering.

What other strategies do you have when helping teens interact with new foods?  Please list them in the comments section, thank you!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Using Comic Strips in Speech Intervention

comic

For the past couple of years, I have used Carol Gray’s materials extensively during my work with adults with developmental disabilities. Creating comic strip conversations has been extremely helpful in facilitating conversation, resolving social issues between peers, taking turns in conversation and providing different social scenarios within various contexts.

Since I have worked in creating my own comic strip conversations with my clients for some time now, I decided to experiment using the comics section in the newspaper. My clients are motivated by the local newspaper for many reasons. They enjoy browsing through current events, looking at the pictures in the sports section and reading the comics.

The comics within a local paper are inexpensive (in my area it is just $1.00 for the local newspaper), easily accessible and age appropriate for older children, teenagers and adults. Therapy using comic strips has been surprisingly motivating and beneficial to my clients. I never realized how effective using the comics section could be!

I like to keep my favorite comics and laminate them for future use. I have also created a game around using the comics section. My clients take turns choosing from a pile of comic cards and then have a discussion about each particular card. When one client doesn’t understand a particular comic and why it’s funny, I have him ask his peer for assistance. As a group, we have had many extensive and interesting conversations related to the comics. Here are some speech and language goals that can be facilitated with the comics:

1. Expanding vocabulary: The comics are full of language, which make it an ideal time to discuss and define new vocabulary. It will be difficult for a client to understand a particular comic without understanding the actual definition of some of the words. For example in a recent Garfield comic, Garfield thinks “This is a perfect day to stay in bed and contemplate life’s truths.” Discuss what “life’s truths” means with your client. Defining the “contemplate” can help build vocabulary and build in conversation. Ask your client, “What do you contemplate about?”

2. Abstract Language/Humor: The comics are excellent in discussing abstract language and humor. In many comic strips, there are often multiple meanings of words. In a recent comic, the discussion between the characters was about “trail mix.” To one character trail mix was the snack, to the other character trail mix was a bunch of items that you picked up along a trail in the woods (e.g. dirt, sand, rocks). This comic began a conversation about the multiple meanings of words and how they had a miscommunication. Discuss the humor in the comic and why it may be funny to the reader. This can be a tricky exercise for many clients especially with autism, but it can be extremely useful as well. Helping a client recognize humor can help build friendships and improve conversational skills.

3. Taking Turns in Conversation: Between characters, there are natural turns in conversation. This can be a great model for conversation. As a carry-over activity continue the comic with an extra blank comic strips. This can help your clients create their own conversations.

4. Improving Literacy/Punctuation: Having your client read the comics can help improve literacy and reading comprehension. Point out different punctuation markers within the comic such as exclamation marks, periods, question marks, etc. Also, discuss the difference between the characters thinking a particular thought versus actually speaking it.

5. Interpreting Facial Expressions and Feelings/Emotions: In many comic strips the characters have extreme emotions. In other comics, the feeling and emotions of a character can be a little tricky due to the high levels of sarcasm. Read the specific comic strip together, discuss the language and then ask your client how the character is most likely feeling.

Rebecca Eisenberg, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist, author, instructor, and parent of two young children, who began her website www.gravitybread.com to create a resource for parents to help make mealtime an enriched learning experience . She discusses the benefits of reading to young children during mealtime, shares recipes with language tips and carryover activities, reviews children’s books for typical children and those with special needs as well as educational apps. She has worked for many years with both children and adults with developmental disabilities in a variety of settings including schools, day habilitation programs, home care and clinics. She can be reached at becca@gravitybread.com, or you can follow her on Facebook; on Twitter; or on Pinterest.

 

Preventing Food Jags: What’s a Parent to Do?

picky eater

 

As a pediatric feeding therapist, many kids are on my caseload because they are stuck in the chicken nugget and french fry rut…or will only eat one brand of mac-n-cheese…or appear addicted to the not-so-happy hamburger meal at a popular fast food chain. While this may often include kids with special needs such as autism, more than half my caseload consists of the traditional “picky-eaters” who spiraled down to only eating a few types of foods and now have a feeding disorder.  I  even had one child who only ate eight different crunchy vegetables, like broccoli and carrots.  Given his love for vegetables, it took his parents a long time to decide this might be a problem. The point is: These kids are stuck in food jag, eating a very limited number of foods and strongly refusing all others.  It creates havoc not only from a nutritional standpoint, but from a social aspect too. Once their parents realize the kids are stuck, the parents feel trapped as well. It’s incredibly stressful for the entire family, especially when mealtimes occur three times per day and there are only a few options on what their child will eat.

It’s impossible in a short blog post to describe how to proceed in feeding therapy once a child is deep in a food jag.  Each child is unique, as is each family. But, in general,  I can offer some tips on how to prevent this from happening in many families, again, keeping in mind that each child and each family is truly unique.

Here are my Top Ten suggestions for preventing food jags:

#10: Start Early.  Expose baby to as many flavors and safe foods as possible.   The recent post for ASHA on Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective may offer insight into that process.

#9: Rotate, Rotate, Rotate: Foods, that is.  Jot down what baby was offered and rotate foods frequently, so that new flavors reappear, regardless if your child liked (or didn’t like) them on the first few encounters.  This is true for kids of all ages.  It’s about building familiarity.  Think about the infamous green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.  It’s rare that hesitant eaters will try it, because they often see it only once or twice per year.

#8: Food Left on the Plate is NOT Wasted: Even if it ends up in the compost, the purpose of the food’s presence on a child’s plate is for him to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it crunch under his fork and  perhaps, taste it.  So if the best he can do is pick it up and chat with you about the properties of green beans, then hurray!  That’s never a waste, because he’s learning about a new food.

#7: Offer Small Portions:  Present small samples.  Underwhelming – that’s  exactly the feeling we hope to invoke.   Besides, if a tiny sample sparks some interest and your child asks for more peas, well, that’s just music to your ears, right?  Present the foods in little ramekins, small ice cube trays or even on  tiny tasting spoons used for samples at the ice cream shop.

#6: Highlight Three or Four Ingredients Over Two Weeks:  You can expose kids to the same three or four ingredients over the course of two weeks, while making many different recipes.  For example, here are nine different ways to use basil, tomatoes and garlic.  Remember get the kids involved in the recipe, so they experience the food with all of their senses.  Even toddlers can tear basil and release the fragrance, sprinkling it on cheese pizza to add a little green.   If they just want to include it as a garnish on the plate beside the pizza, that’s a good start, too!

#5 Focus on Building Relationships with FoodThat often doesn’t begin with chewing and swallowing.  Garden, grocery stop, visit the farmer’s market, create food science experiments like this fancy way of separating egg whites from the yoke.  Sounds corny (pardon the pun!), but making friends with food means getting to know food.  I often tell the kids I work with “We are introducing your brain to broccoli.  Brain, say hello to broccoli!”

#4 Don’t Wait for a Picky Eating Phase to Pass: Use these strategies now.  Keep them up, even through a phase of resistant eating.  Learning to be an adventurous eater takes time.

#3 Don’t Food Jag on FAMILY favorites.  In our fast paced life, it’s easy to grab the same thing for dinner most evenings.  Because of certain preferences, are the same few foods served too often?  Ask yourself, are you funneling down to your list of “sure things?”  It’s easy to fall into the trap: “Let’s just have pizza again – at least I know everyone will eat that.”

#2 Make Family Dinnertime Less about Dinner and More about Family.  Why?  Because the more a family focuses on the time together, sharing tidbits of their day and enjoying each other’s company,  the sweeter the atmosphere at the table.  Seems ironic, given this article is focused is on food, but, the strategies noted above all include time together.  That’s what family mealtimes are meant to be: a time to share our day.  Becoming an adventurous eater is part of that process over time.

And the #1 strategy for preventing food jags?  Seek help early.  If mealtimes become stressful or the strategies above seem especially challenging, that’s the time to ask a feeding therapist for help.  Feeding therapy is more than just the immediate assessment and treatment of feeding disorders – the long term goal is creating joyful mealtimes for the whole family.  The sooner you seek advice, the closer you are to that goal.   I hope you’ll visit me at My Munch Bug.com for articles and advice on raising adventurous eaters and solving picky eating issues.  Plus, here are just a few of my favorite resources:

Websites & Blogs

Doctor Yum.com

Spectrum Speech and Feeding.com

Picky Tots BlogSpot

Books

Getting to Yum

Fearless Feeding

Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) THAT!

Facebook

Food Smart Kids

Feeding Matters

Feeding Tube Awareness

 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Become a (Hearing) Environmentalist

dusty4

 

Communication is a complex puzzle that requires all pieces to be properly placed. It is critical for audiologists to address all pieces of that puzzle during the aural rehabilitation process to ensure a successful outcome for the patient. A comprehensive counseling protocol should thoroughly address the following five keys to communication success:

dusty graphic

My previous blogs focused on the roles of the speaker and the listener in a communication exchange. Today we’ll address the third key to communication success: environment. No, I’m not talking about the trees and the birds! When it comes to communication, environmental modifications often have the biggest impact, yet they are often overlooked. Let’s take a look at one of the most difficult listening situations for people with hearing loss, and how environmental modifications can reduce potential communication challenges.

The hastily-educated patient:

Mr. Jones and his wife are looking forward to dinner at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. After a busy day, they rush out of the house at 5:30 p.m., hoping they won’t have to wait too long for a table. They are both starving, so they accept the first-available table, which happens to be in the middle of the restaurant and close to the kitchen. Mr. Jones is still adapting to his new hearing aids and feels overwhelmed by all of the noise. They are surrounded by families with loud children, clanking dishes, and noises from the kitchen. He and his wife can hardly hear each other above all the noise and feel frustrated that they weren’t able to fully enjoy their anniversary dinner. They are both disappointed that his new hearing aids did not perform better in this situation.

The well-educated patient:

Mr. Jones and his wife are looking forward to dinner at their favorite restaurant to celebrate their anniversary. They make a 4:00pm reservation and request a corner booth with good lighting. When they arrive for dinner, they are pleased to find that they nearly have the restaurant to themselves. They are seated immediately, served quickly, and enjoy reminiscing about the past year over a pleasant early dinner. Mr. Jones is pleased that his new hearing aids made it easier to hear his wife’s voice.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out which scenario will result in a more satisfied patient outcome. Determine which situations are most challenging for your patients, and help them to develop an “environmental modification” plan for those specific situations. These plans typically incorporate some version of the following two elements:

1. Reducing background noise
2. Improving visibility (ex. lighting, proximity, orientation)

It is our professional responsibility to make sure that every patient is educated and equipped with tools and strategies that address all pieces of the communication puzzle. They must understand that environmental modifications are just as important as the hearing aids. While thorough patient education may take a bit longer in the beginning, it almost always saves valuable clinic time in the end. The resulting patient success and satisfaction certainly make it time well-spent.

 

Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuDis a practicing audiologist in a busy ENT clinic in Littleton, Colo. She is the founder of Cut to the Chase Communication, LLC, a company dedicated to providing “fun, easy, and effective” counseling tools for busy hearing care professionals. She is also the author of Frustrated by Hearing Loss? 5 Keys to Communication Success. Dr. Jessen can be contacted at info@CutToTheChaseCommunication.com.

 

 

 

Aural Rehab: Getting an “A” in Listening

listening

There is no denying that aural rehab is critical for patient success with amplification. Unfortunately, most hearing care professionals do not implement a structured, patient-focused aural rehab program. They report lack of time, lack of patient compliance, and lack of reimbursement as the common challenges. As a practicing audiologist, I face these challenges on a daily basis, which prompted me to develop the 5 Keys to Communication Success and the Cut to the Chase Counseling program. The 5 Keys to Communication Success are:

dusty graphic

Educating our patients about these five simple keys to successful communication will help them to understand a few important points:

  • Communication is like a puzzle that requires several pieces to work properly.
  • Hearing aids are only one piece of this communication puzzle.
  • Involvement of family members, friends, and caregivers is essential.

When patients fully grasp the complexity of communication, and understand that each piece of the puzzle is critical for communication success, they are much more likely to be satisfied with their hearing aids and to comply with our recommendations.
My previous blog went into detail about the first key, The Speaker.
Today I’ll dive deeper into the second Key to Communication Success: The Listener. Most of the listener strategies we attempt to teach our patients are critical for all listeners, including those with perfect hearing. However, the importance increases exponentially when the listener is challenged by hearing loss. We must impress upon our patients that implementing these strategies is just as important as wearing their hearing aids.
Listener strategies revolve around the concept of active listening. The listener is no longer allowed to sit back and passively expect communication to happen effortlessly. Even with new hearing aids, this is an unrealistic expectation. I encourage my patients to earn an “A” in listening. To accomplish this, they must:

  • Be aware of their surroundings.
  • Anticipate what might be said.
  • Take action to make sure they can clearly see the speaker’s face.

As with all of the communication keys, I find it works best to classify the listener strategies by environment. For example, in a restaurant environment I instruct the listeners to read and discuss the menu ahead of time, to focus on the facial expressions and lip movements of the speaker, and to actively “tune out” the noises that aren’t helpful for communication. We also discuss listener strategies for the following environments: around the house, in the car, dining out, on the phone, and public events. While repetition of strategies is common between environments, I find that patients are more likely to retain and implement the information when it is applied to a specific situation where they experience listening challenges. It is also easier for patients to grasp the importance of these strategies when they see them repeated across environments.
The ultimate goal is to equip and empower our patients with a multitude of tools that will facilitate successful communication. The simple structure of the 5 Keys to Communication Success makes this easier and more efficient for both clinicians and patients alike. Next month I’ll discuss the third key: Environment.

 

Dr. Dusty Ann Jessen, AuDis a practicing audiologist in a busy ENT clinic in Littleton, Colo. She is the founder of Cut to the Chase Communication, LLC, a company dedicated to providing “fun, easy, and effective” counseling tools for busy hearing care professionals. She is also the author of Frustrated by Hearing Loss? 5 Keys to Communication Success. Dr. Jessen can be contacted at info@CutToTheChaseCommunication.com.

 

Our Perception of Taste: What’s Sound Got to Do with It?

music

My first love as a speech-language pathologist is pediatric feeding.  I spend lots of time talking to little kids about “carrot crunchies” and “pea-pops” and various silly names for the sounds that different foods make in our mouths as we explore all of the sensory components of food in weekly treatment sessions.

Is it possible that sound is a larger component of our eating experience than many of us realize? What’s sound got to do with eating, or more specifically, with taste? Discovering how the sound of a crunching potato chip affects flavor is more than just curiosity.  Prof. Charles Spence, who leads Oxford’s Crossmodal Research Laboratory, studied how the sound that food makes in our mouths influences our perception of freshness.  It’s an important point for potato chip manufacturers, who strive to create the “crunchiest crisp possible.”

Background sounds in the environment also influence our interpretation of taste.  Spence conducted an experiment where individuals were presented with 4 pieces of identical toffee.  Two pieces were eaten while the subjects listened to the lower pitch of brass instruments.  Two other pieces were eaten while listening to the higher pitch of a piano.  The pieces eaten during the higher pitched piano music were rated “sweet” by the subjects and the pieces eaten during the lower pitched music were rated “bitter.”

Chef Blumenthal, owner of The Fat Duck near London, has taken Spence’s research findings to the next level.  Order the “Sound of the Sea” and you’ll enjoy more than seafood delicacies  presented on “a sand of tapioca and fried panko, then topped with seafood foam.” The dish is accompanied by an iPod nestled in a seashell, “so that diners can listen to the sound of crashing waves as they eat.” Spence reports that diners experience stronger, saltier flavors with the sound of the ocean in the background.  Another London restaurant, the House of Wolf, serves a cake pop along with instructions to dial a phone number and then, before tasting,  press 1 for sweet and 2 for bitter.  Diners who listened to the first prompt heard a high pitched melody and those who pressed “two” heard a low brassy tones.   In an article for the Telegraph, Spence said,  “We have also looked at the crispiness of crisps and biscuits and found that by boosting certain high frequency sounds when volunteers bit into them we could make them taste crunchier, and they became softer if we dampened those frequencies.”  It’s not just diners across the pond who are experiencing the marriage of sound and taste. Major food companies in the United States also have consulted with Spence, who developed a soundtrack to “complement”  the coffee at Starbucks®.  Speaking of coffee, in a recent study, Spence found that humans can detect whether a liquid is hot or cold, just from listening to the sound of it being poured into a glass, porcelain, paper and/or plastic cup.  I’ll consider this the next time I’m waiting for my drink at the local coffee shop.  Perhaps, from now on,  I can just listen to the sound of the pour, grab my drink and avoid the barista announcing “Lite Iced Triple Venti Half-Pump Americano Skinny for High Maintenance Melanie” with that smirk on his face.  But, I digress…

When I consider my little clients in feeding therapy, I wonder how this research might be expanded to detect possible differences in taste perception in children with sensory processing challenges, including kids with autism. Certainly, respecting the differences in a child’s sensory system is an integral part of feeding therapy for most clinicians.  Could it be that this hiccup in auditory, visual, gustatory or other sensory systems communicating efficiently with one another makes eating a variety of foods especially difficult for some children, more than we know at this time?  A recent article in The Journal of Neuroscience reported that kids with “autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have trouble integrating simultaneous information from their eyes and their ears” and discussed how this might affect their language skills. Wendy Chung, MD, PhD at Columbia University Medical Center explained in a recent video for parents how a poorly functioning pathway for simultaneous auditory and visual information (and the secondary problems of processing and responding to sensory signals) causes a child with ASD to be overwhelmed in environments that we find quite comfortable.  Perhaps future research may include Spence’s work and how it might apply to children in feeding therapy. Would certain tones be more soothing while eating?  Would certain music in the school cafeteria help children eat faster or even choose more nutritious foods? The common phrase “a feast for the eyes” may one day turn out to be “a feast for the eyes and ears” as we consider all the possibilities.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Just Breathe. Really?

breathing

Easy for you and me to say.  But for 7.1 million U.S. school children it’s not. Childhood asthma rates continue to rise and from 2001 through 2009 those rates were the highest for African American children, almost a 50 percent increase. Asthma accounts for 10.5 million school absences each year. The main trigger of asthma in school children are the same contributors to poor indoor air quality. Yeah, that’s right … open a window.

Air is mostly composed of nitrogen (78 percent) and oxygen (20 percent), air also has about 1 percent of water vapor and tiny amounts of argon and other gases.  For most of us, air quietly passes through our nasal passages into our lungs and out again; taking in the oxygen needed for our blood supply during inhalation and disposing the carbon dioxide by-product during exhalation.  We do this without thought, without effort–unless you are a child with asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by inflammation of the airways. Recurring symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing.  Asthma develops in childhood as early as 6 months of age and lasts a lifetime.  About one in 12 Americans are living with asthma and over one third of them are children. In adults women are more likely than men to have asthma and more boys than girls among children. Those with asthma pay a huge price, about $3,000 per year per person to be exact. This figure includes medical care, medications, lost work/school days and deaths.

Various triggers not easily controlled can cause an asthma attack such as changes in weather. However, there are other triggers that can be controlled such as the presence of dust mites, roaches, pets, and mold affecting indoor air quality.  Asthma is particularly more prevalent to those living in poor neighborhoods.  A recent episode of NBC Dateline revealed that the childhood asthma rates in East Harlem run at 19 percent compared to the adjoining Upper East Side neighborhood at 7 percent.  They breathe the same New York City air, so what accounts for the difference?

Water leaks, pest infestation and general contract repairs are the responsibility of a rental unit’s landlord. As economically disadvantaged families tend to reside in these units, they are at the mercy of their landlord. Water damage leads to mold; pest infestation carries allergens; both of these conditions create a significant trigger for asthma in children. Even a child without an asthma history may become asthmatic as a result of repeated and chronic exposure to such poor indoor air quality.

School absences are of particular concern; children who miss more than 18 school days are year are more likely to drop out of school. Children with asthma miss more days of school due to their disease compared to children without asthma.  The number of missed days rises with severity—on average a child with severe and persistent symptoms misses 11.5 days of school in a year.  That’s a lot of missed homework and make up speech sessions. Asthma also affects a child’s sleep quality, which in turn affects a child’s ability to pay attention in class and lowers their quality school work.

 What can you do? 

  • Know which children on your caseload have asthma and know how to deal with an asthma emergency, including the location of the child’s inhaler.
  • Take a look at your therapy treatment room or classroom. Are the floors hard wood or are they carpeted?  If hard wood, hooray! If carpeted, make sure they get vacuumed every day and shampooed at the end of the school week.
  • Got pets? If there are in your classroom, better to send them to another home. Animals carry dander that can trigger asthma. If you have a pet at home, make sure your work wardrobe is free of pet hair.
  • Are you working out of a trailer or portable classroom?  These type of environments generally trap moisture than can turn into nasty mold. Make sure spills and leaks are taken care of quickly.
  • Skip the perfume spritz and after shave before leaving the house for work. Fragrances can trigger an asthma episode.
  •  Refrain from fuzzy or scented materials, pillows or upholstered furniture; these can collect dust mites, which are (surprise!) asthma triggers. If the furniture must stay, vacuum it frequently.
  • No clutter!  Cockroaches and dust mites love clutter … and produce more asthma triggers.
  • If your room has a window that faces high volume vehicular traffic, keep it closed during the vulnerable morning hours and cold temperatures.
  • Stay away from phthalate-based toys  as phthalates are known triggers for asthma.
  • Don’t use pesticide sprays in your room.  Go for integrated pest management strategies instead.
  • Like team work?  Collaborate with your school nurse and district’s administration to develop an asthma management plan at your school if one does not exist.  Another excellent resource is to adopt ideas from the IAQ Tools for Schools Action Kit.  Work with your district’s transportation department to monitor school bus engine exhaust near open windows.

 

Although asthma is prevalent, with some forethought and preventive measures, it can be controlled. Now breathe a sigh of relief!

Anastasia Antoniadis is with the Tuscarora (PA) Intermediate Unit and works as a state consultant for Early Intervention Technical Assistance through the Pennsylvania Training and Technical Assistance Network. She earned a Master of Arts degree in speech pathology from City College of the City University of New York and a Master’s degree in public health from Temple University. She was a practicing pediatric SLP for 14 years before becoming an early childhood consultant for Pennsylvania’s early intervention system. Her public health studies have been in the area of environmental health and data mapping using geographic information system technology.  You can follow her on Twitter @SLPS4HlthySchools. 

 

 

 

Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective

blw

One of the things I like best about teaching courses on feeding to parents and professionals around the United States is learning what new trends are evolving around family mealtimes. Over the past year,  one of the common questions I’m asked is, “What about Baby Led Weaning?”

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a term coined by Ms. Gill Rapley, co-author of “Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods.”  Rapley graciously chatted with me about her philosophy and explained that although she did not invent BLW, she found the method to be successful in her work as a former health visitor and midwife in the United Kingdom and continues to study the topic today while earning her PhD.

In a nutshell, BLW centers on the philosophy that babies are developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age. As stated on the BLW website “You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t.”  Please note that the word “wean” is not referring to weaning from breast or bottle, but instead refers to a term commonly used in the United Kingdom for adding complementary foods to the baby’s current diet of breast milk or formula.  According to the BLW website, ideas for first foods include “chip size” steamed vegetables such as a broccoli spear with the stem as a handle, roasted potato wedges, meat in large enough pieces for the baby to grasp and chew, rice cakes, cucumber, celery and dried apricots.

As a SLP who focuses on pediatric feeding, I view feeding as a developmental process.  Whether I’m working with a child experiencing delays in development or offering advice to a parent whose child is meeting milestones with ease, I always ask myself “How can I respect and support this family’s mealtime culture while guiding this child safely through the developmental course of learning to eat?”  Thus, for families who are interested in following the BLW method, whether their child is in feeding therapy or not, I try to support their wishes if the child is capable,  while offering the following BLW points to consider:

BLW encourages parents to eat with their children, since everyone is eating the same food. 

In today’s busy culture, it feels easier to many parents to feed the baby prior to the adult or family meal, and in BLW the thought is that jarred purees contribute to this habit and it’s important to include baby at the table at an early age.  Even in feeding therapy,  the ultimate goal is for families to be able to gather around the table at mealtimes with everyone enjoying the same foods.  Plus, Columbia University reports that consistent family dinners are an integral and valuable part of raising children.

BLW emphasizes that babies must be the ones to put the food in their mouths.

Feeding therapists encourage self-feeding  for all kids because it allows them to get messy.  Babies are programmed to explore the world with all of their senses, especially their hands and mouths, and often the two together!  BLW notes that the time to begin self-feeding is at 6 months when baby can sit upright on his/her own. I explain to parents that first, every child must have the gross motor stability to support fine motor skills, including reaching and raking for food and controlling their grasp to bring the food to the mouth to be chewed.  For children who have this capability, I feel comfortable with large pieces of food that will not snap off (or allow a solid chunk to fall into the mouth) in addition to short spoons and chewable toys for practicing the skills that will eventually lead to self-feeding.

BLW follows the baby’s cues rather than the parent controlling the feeding via the spoon.

I explain that whether presenting food to your child by placing it on the high chair tray in front of them, directly on a spoon or even mouth to mouth as done in some cultures, reading baby’s cues for readiness is crucial.  Like a beautiful, flowing conversation, feeding children is a reciprocal experience.

According to the BLW blog, BLW introduces chip-size foods (rather than purees or mashed foods) so that baby learns to chew first and then spit out if unable to swallow, noting that with purees on a spoon, babies learn to swallow first and then chew.

From a developmental perspective,  this doesn’t quite fit with my understanding of how infant reflexes integrate  and babies acquire oral motor skills. Babies can begin the process of BOTH spoon and finger feeding between the ages of 5 and 6 months using both purees and soft, safe foods.  Why?  Because this is when babies acquire better lip control and movement as they suck the puree off of a parent’s finger, their own hands or a spoon.  As noted in Diane Bahr’s book “Nobody Ever Told Me (or My Mother) That!” this is when babies use their rhythmic bite reflex to bite off soft pieces of safe, soft or meltable foods that they can hold in their tiny fists or when presented by a parent to their open mouths. If the food is placed onto the gums where we will one day see molars, a rotary chew pattern will begin to emerge over time, thanks to reflexive patterns that soon become purposeful movements.  It’s a developmental process and BOTH purees and finger feeding facilitate the progression of skills. It makes sense to me to transition gradually from thinner  liquids (breast milk/formula) to thicker (thus, a smooth puree) to consistently mashed or chopped  while introducing soft meltables over time.  Keep in mind that I also encounter families who are moving too slowly through graduation of textures, as noted in this article by Bahr.  But, jumping straight to only large pieces of foods to be chewed and then either swallowed or spit out feels like skipping crucial steps in the developmental process.  “Feels like” is the key phrase here: We need research to determine if children who follow this model eventually acquire skills traditionally learned prior to chewing chunks of food as listed in this article found in ASHA Perspectives.  Unlike my previous post on sippy cups, where therapists have raised concerns based on their professional experience over several years and observation of prolonged sippy cup use,  consistent BLW practices are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States.  So, when any parent asks “What about Baby Led Weaning?” I try to integrate my own practitioner expertise and knowledge of feeding development while honoring the family’s preferences and mealtime culture.  Still,  my biggest concern for any 6 month old child is choking.

BLW encourages parents to become comfortable with gagging episodes and understand the difference between gagging and choking. 

Gagging versus choking are two different experiences.  Typically, an infant’s gag reflex is triggered when the back three quarters of the tongue is stimulated, but by the time a child reaches  9 months of age, the reflex covers less area, lying on the back third of the tongue. Eventually, the gag reflex shifts posteriorly even more as the child learns to tolerate the stimulation. Gagging is nature’s way of protecting the airway, where true choking occurs.  Choking happens when food (or other substances) obstruct the airway and thus, often has no sound or intermittent, odd sounds.  Other signs of choking include but are not limited to: gasping for breath, turning blue around the lips and beneath the eyes and/or staring with an open mouth while drooling.

Gagging is an uncomfortable sensation where the soft palate suddenly elevates, the jaw thrusts forward and down, and the back of the tongue lifts up and forward.  It is not unusual for a child to vomit after gagging.  In between the gags, the child is still able to breathe, cry and make vocal noises.  The occasional gag is an important built-in safety mechanism, but frequent gags and/or vomiting can lead to an aversion to food.

In summary, when asked for advice from any family that would like to follow Baby Led Weaning principles, I stress the importance of reading baby’s cues and monitoring them closely for safe feeding while supporting them through the developmental process of learning to eat, no matter what age.  This includes proper positioning in the feeding chair for optimal stability and presenting only manageable pieces of safe, meltable and/or solid foods that do not pose a choking hazard.  For children in feeding therapy, incorporating some aspects of BLW is dependent on that child’s individual delays or challenges and where they are in the developmental process, regardless of chronological age.  My primary concern for any child is safety – be aware and be informed, while respecting each family’s mealtime culture.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Step Away From the Sippy Cup!

sippy

Sippy Cups became all the rage in the 1980s, along with oversized shoulder pads, MC Hammer parachute pants and bangs that stood up like a water spout on top of your head.   A mechanical engineer, tired of his toddler’s trail of juice throughout the house, set out to create a spill-proof cup that would “outsmart the child.”  Soon,  Playtex® offered a licensing deal, the rest is history and I suspect  that mechanical engineer is now comfortably retired and living in a sippy-cup mansion on a tropical island in the South Pacific.

Geez. Why didn’t I invent something like that?  I want to live in a mansion in the South Pacific. By the way,  I also missed the boat on sticky notes, Velcro® and Duct Tape®–all products I encounter on a daily basis, just like those darn sippy cups I see everywhere.  I truly shouldn’t be so bitter, though – in my professional opinion, over-use of sippy cups is keeping me employed as a feeding specialist and I should be thankful for job security.  Thank goodness for the American marketing machine – it has convinced today’s generation of parents that transitioning from breast or bottle to the sippy cup is part of the developmental process of eating.  Problem is, those sippy cups seem to linger through preschool.

As an SLP who treats babies with feeding challenges, I frequently hear from parents how excited they are to begin teaching their baby to use a sippy cup.  They often view it as a developmental milestone, when in fact it was invented simply to keep the floor clean and was never designed for developing oral motor skills.  Sippy cups were invented for parents, not for kids.  The next transition from breast and/or bottle is to learn to drink from an open cup held by an adult in order to limit spills or to learn to drink from a straw cup.  Once a child transitions to a cup with a straw, I suggest cutting down the straw so that the child can just get his lips around it, but can’t anchor his tongue underneath it.   That’s my issue with the sippy-cup: It continues to promote the anterior-posterior movement of the tongue,  characteristic of a suckle-like pattern that infants use for breast or bottle feeding.  Sippy cups limit the child’s ability to develop a more mature swallowing pattern, especially  with continued use after the first year.  The spout blocks the tongue tip from rising up to the alveolar ridge just above the front teeth and forces the child to continue to push his tongue forward and back as he sucks on the spout to extract the juice.

Here’s another important take-a-way on this topic:   A 2012 study by Dr. Sarah Keim of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio reported that “a young child is rushed to a hospital every four hours in the U.S. due to an injury from a bottle, sippy cup or pacifier.”   Dr. Keim theorized that as children are just learning to walk, they are often walking with a pacifier, bottle  or sippy cup in their mouths.  One stumble and it can result in a serious injury.

Before I ever climbed onto the anti-sippy cup soap box, I let my own two kids drink from them for a short time.  I even saved their first sippy cup – I’m THAT mom who saved EVERYTHING.  If it’s too hard to let go of the idea of using a sippy cup, let the child use it for a very short time. Then, step away from the sippy cup if the child is over 10 months old or beginning to show signs of cruising the furniture.  In the near future, it will soon be time to conquer two genuine developmental milestones–mastering a mature swallow pattern and learning to walk.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

How 2013 Taught Me To Be a Better SLP

2013

We have successfully completed another year owning a private practice in a location that is densely populated with speech language pathologists. And by “we” I mean myself and my husband. We are implementing a business plan that he poured sweat and tears over (everything just short of the blood…) and the doors to our business still remain open.

Given the multitude of stresses that come from running and owning a business, I have learned to measure my success in ways that seems contrary to the ordinary. Here’s what I have learned and how I measured my success as a speech-language pathologist in the year 2013.

1. Being a parent is hard work and I cannot fully grasp and understand that just yet. No matter what a family’s situation is, the energy, effort, resources, skills, brainpower, love, patience, problem solving, planning, and determination it takes to be a parent and caretaker of a child with special needs is really immeasurable. As an SLP I can listen, sympathize, show compassion, and provide resources, but I am not in their place at the present time. Although I am trained to be a support for these families and I respond with new ideas, I am lacking a component of what it really means to live what they are living. Coming to this realization and maintaining awareness of it is huge for me.


2. Baby steps are crucial–for everyone.
 I have learned that so often I attempt to “conquer” a child’s speech or language delay in just one day. My expectations are high and I want the family to see the benefits of my services. But I am not a magician and they need to realize this. And we are working with a human being, not a PowerPoint presentation that we can edit with the click of a mouse. Coming in with realistic expectations and using daily, small stepping stones to increase a child’s skills is what is most beneficial. One of the mothers I work with often repeats this back to me as we summarize sessions with her child (who has many needs). “Baby steps, baby steps,” she says. Yes, so unbelievably true.

3. I need to squish, trample, and eliminate my need for a box. I naturally go through life with a black or white mentality. If something is not one way then of course that would make it be _____ (the opposite of the initial way). I come from a long line of black and white thinkers. Nope. Nada. Not the case. Just because one child was one way, does not mean that child X will be that way as well when they get to point B. Follow? Although I try, I realize that so often I don’t factor in the child’s overall personality into my daily interactions with him or her. I’m not talking about a child’s behaviors. I’m talking about their likes, loves, and dislikes. When I was a kid I loved watches, Hello Kitty, big red soft robes, Where’s Spot? books, music, and bear hugs. This was what allowed me to flourish as a child and I need to help other families do the same with their unique kiddos.

4. You never know when someone is listening…… On occasion I feel myself turning red with frustration at my inability to “get through” to a family (thus the need for lessons 2 and 3). However, on several different instances this year a parent or caregiver summarized the very basis of what we were working on in therapy. Whoops. I love when my husband teaches me that I am not always right he was listening but it may be even more humbling when a family that I work with shares in the same lesson.

5. There is never a limited supply of resources to work with and it’s OK not to reinvent the wheel sometimes. When I’m planning for my sessions I will at times squeeze in another sheet of laminated pictures, more books, or have ready more toys within arm’s reach. Four out of five times I don’t even need these items as I survey the house and begin using whatever toy the child had already been playing with. But I have found that the magic number of three materials in a session usually does it. Why? No scientific basis for it really. A book, one toy, and a small sensory item (bubbles, play dough, etc) usually do the “trick” (whatever that is). This makes me slow down. (Yes, let’s once again go back to number 2.) It gives us enough time to play together and enough time to engage in coaching the family. The reason why there are so many cute, easily adaptable pre-made lesson plans out there is because the crafty people that make them are good at it. Really good at it. And they take pleasure in knowing that people like me are occasionally using their lessons for materials in therapy. We’ve all got our skills and using time efficiently to make materials is not one of mine. That’s what my great, far-reaching community is for.

So given all of the above lessons, how have I measured my success as a therapist this past year? Simply by the fact that I have learned. I have grown. And it only looks like there will be more of that to come in the New Year. While my feet are beginning to be planted in my current practice, the certainty of this stability does not always ring true. But my ability to continuously learn in my profession? Always there without fail. I cannot wait to continue the relationships with the families I am already working with and establish trust in new relationships to come.

Meredith Mitchell, MSP, CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist who owns a private practice in North Carolina.  She maintains a blog for families on her website and also maintains a separate blog for speech therapists focusing on early intervention.  She can be reached at meredith@sterlingtherapync.com.