There aren’t many things that can frustrate a mom more than a child who just won’t eat, can’t eat or refuses to eat or touch his food. Welcome to my household! My son Von is 3 years old, and to date he will only touch crackers, dry cereal, Cheetos and grapes with skin. If you place anything on his plate that appears slimy, has a “weird” texture or is simply unpleasant to his liking he will not touch it and will not feed himself. I imagine when he looks at his plate it must appear like this:
That is the only logical reason I can think a child would not want to feed himself. Worms! In Von’s little mind, which is actually very large, I’m starting to believe all food that is of an undesirable texture has to look like worms. The food must be slimy, slithering and is most certainly trying to wiggle its way into his mouth, down his throat and into that tummy so empty it growls. The worms must be so large and unpleasant that it causes him to wince in sheer agony if something as disgusting as yogurt would even have the nerve to simply graze or touch his gentle skin on his fingers.
There have been moments of sheer panic on his face and real tears when he sees food on his fingers. It’s not just food on fingers though that terrify Von. Don’t let those wormy worms slither on to the table near him. That diabolical milk better not drip on his shirt, or a scream of sheer panic may exit those tiny vocal cords.
The worms control our lives as meals take more than an hour. We work diligently to teach him they are not worms but in fact food that is yummy and tasty. It is chock-full of vitamins and protein to help him grow big and strong. Yet, despite the months of work, we are in no better position than we were six months ago when we started feeding therapy.
Von still will not touch those dang worms, and he still cries when many foods even touch his tiny fingers. Each day we are still feeding Von nearly every single bite of food. Nearly every meal will take us more than an hour as he not only won’t touch the food, but many foods he simply won’t chew or swallow.
Food is a touchy subject in our home. It makes my own skin crawl thinking about having to sit another hour at the table coercing him to eat.
We have these amazing safe foods — foods that are safe and not worm -illed in Von’s eyes. They are tasty and delicious morsels of food he will so willing hoard and stuff his mouth full of, and unfortunately they offer little to no nutritional value. The funny thing is, prior to Von, I ate organic and cooked fresh. My child was going to eat organic, too! My child was going to be green! Yet, here I am three years later with a child who will only feed himself Cheetos, Reese’s Cereal Puffs, grapes, Sun Chips and crackers. If you place any other food in his face, I guarantee he believes the worms are coming for him.
Prior to having Von, I had never heard of sensory processing disorder. I didn’t know a neurological response to stimuli could possibly make life so difficult to manage. There was never a moment I considered a noise, a food, texture, movement or sight could either send my child spiraling out of control or force him to seek that stimuli so much he can’t interact with anything else. This is different than having a quirk. This is a debilitating condition that rules every single part of Von’s life. It most notably controls his diet. He isn’t a picky eater. Far from it. He’s terrified of certain foods, and if you present the food in a way he finds offensive, you will be lucky if he will ever eat the food again. His diet is boring. Each and every day, my child eats the exact same foods he’s deemed safe. Any other food is simply a wiggly worm we are forcing him to eat for no good reason. The amount of tears from both of us during meals is enough to probably fill a small pond in the field behind my home. It would likely be the first saltwater pond ever made from organic tears.
We work diligently in therapy, and in educating myself on oral aversion, I’m learning this is not something Von will simply overcome. We will have to teach and hopefully encourage him about food being fun and not full of slimy worms trying to inhabit his adorable belly.
We play with food. We let him drive his motorcycles (Cheerios) through the mud (yogurt), hoping he become less averse to the food we introduce. Our goal is that one day, he will not only touch the food but also taste the food.
We hope he will eventually want to feed himself the food, and that we won’t be spending more than three hours a day on simply feeding him. Our goal is simple — we want Von to enjoy food. We want him not to fear his birthday cake. We want him to view food positively and not like slithering worms trying to harm him. If we have to spend years doing this, I will work on it daily so he can be free of his fear of food. We will not let the worms win!