Whether you have a 1 year old or a teenager, a child with special needs or a typically developing child, or a single child or 15 children, mealtime can be a royal pain in the rear. From the power struggles over food to the constant distractions and messy tables, its a thing almost every parent dreads. I think this is why it makes it a subject that can feel like you’ve been there and done that so many times that when you meet another parent with a “picky eater” you want nothing more than to offer support and advice. The problem occurs when that other parent’s “picky eater” is actually so much more just that.
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You see, if you have a child with SPD (sensory processing disorder) or other neurological differences that lead to sensory sensitivities, mealtimes can be 1000x harder than you ever ever dreamed them of being. In our home, we are pretty lucky. By lucky, I mean that my child eats more than 5 foods, he doesn’t gag when he puts food to his mouth, and with the right supports, he can actually sit to eat with the rest of the family now.
That is not the case for many parents parenting a child with SPD. Difficulty with eating is an absolute understatement. Just yesterday, I asked in my support group what everyone’s #1 struggle with eating was and I was floored. I was planning to offer tips and solutions (which I still hope to do over time) but the needs were so vast and so different.
Everything from children that literally threw up anytime they ate to children that lose utter control over a single drop of sugar. There were children that had been hospitalized for not being able to gain weight and children that would only eat standing up.
The struggle is real.
I could feel the frustration and emotions bleeding through every comment I read.
So, I made a decision to switch courses and let the parents vent. Some of my favorite posts have been where SPD parents tell the world what they really wish others knew.
If you missed them, you can read them here:
Despite my son’s (and my daughter’s) interesting and frustrating eating struggles not being “that bad”, I have been in the same shoes as everyone in my support group. I have heard so many times that I just need to “make him eat it” or that “she is playing you” that I have lost count.
So today, I have gathered up some fired up parents (12,000 to be exact) that have some things they wish the world knew.
As always, please know first and foremost that we love you. We do. We believe that you want to help. We understand you have had a “picky eater” before. We even know you love us. But, here’s the thing… Our “Picky Eaters” are so much more.
30 Things SPD Parents Secretly Wish You Knew About Their “Picky Eater”
First of all, I am not a bad parent and my child is not a bad kid! He is not an a-hole, a brat or any other name you think of to place the blame on him.
- The thought of new foods can give him panic attacks and if you force he will gag and vomit.
- He can’t stand a lot of textures, so there are only a small list of things he can tolerate!!!
- It is about texture, smell, visual and taste and his ability to process it all.
Next, My child isn’t “picky”...
- He is easily distracted and overwhelmed by the surroundings, noise, “look” of food on the plate.
- He’s literally scared of new foods. This is extremely hard for him and he is making tremendous progress !
- It is related to simple distaste and other “pickiness” is a true sensory discomfort for her. It is often hard for even her parents to tell the difference!
- It’s the texture of certain foods that make her feel sick.
- Textures to our special little kiddos can be all kinds of scary! Crackers can feel like glass, warm can feel like boiling lava, colors can be overwhelming…
- “Picky eating” is often a mechanism to cope with uncertainty, it’s about control and they have so little of it…
Also, It is not a power struggle.
- It’s sensory and anxiety related and I’m not willing to put my kid in major distress by not offering him food he’s willing to eat.
- My child cannot help his food issues.
- Sometimes the food just doesn’t feel right.
- Some days, it’s simply about getting the calories in.
- He eats at a very slow pace and needs breaks from eating a meal. Seriously. A snack can take 15 minutes and a meal can take 2 hours
- Know, I’m not a weak and bad mom who gives in easily.
Oh, and “He’ll eat when he’s hungry” is complete BS.
- She’d be perfectly happy to starve.
- Her body literally doesn’t ever tell her she’s hungry.
- My son went on a 3 day hunger strike awhile back because dad thought he could make him eat. Lol. Nope
- He will not take “just one bite” of each thing I serve.
- He will tell me he’s hungry, and by the time the food is made, he’s forgotten and his body isn’t sending “hungry” signals any more.
While we are on the subject, I can’t force my child to eat, either.
- He would starve himself before he would eat something he doesn’t want.
- He will eat once everyone has left the table because it to stimulating. He needs a quiet environment please don’t try and force him…
- She will refuse even more if offered it. My oldest would rather starve herself than eat.
- My daughter will gag if forced to eat a texture she doesn’t like. Seriously, the nurses learned the hard way.
- It will set off his anxiety, which is a can of worms you DON’T want opened!
- When I say he can’t eat something, he really can’t and will puke immediately. Just ask my in-laws.
In case you didn’t realize, my child hears the way you talk to them.
So, please, for their sake…
- Don’t say anything funny or tease him about the food he eats or he’ll completely stop eating that food. Just say: that’s great that you’re eating that, it will help you grow.
- Compliment him. It will go a long way.
- Don’t lie about what’s in the food. Lying to her about what is in something is cruel and sets us back even further with what she will eat. In fact, it makes it more likely she will not want contact with you either. Trust is crucial.
Finally, I asked my 11 year old to tell me what he wish everyone knew about his “picky eating” and this is what he said:
“I wish people knew I can’t help it. Don’t get mad at me. I only like certain foods. It’s the way my brain works not something I am doing to make you mad.”
I think it is clear that our children WANT to eat. They NEED to eat. But somedays it just isn’t as easy as we think it should be. Have a little bit of patience, understanding, and most of all, believe us when we say our child isn’t just “picky”.
More than anything, there is a real reason our children are “picky” and calling them that doesn’t get to the root of the problem and help anyone.
If you are still with us and curious about sensory processing and how eating is affected, you will want to check out my book, Sensory Processing 101. You can hop over and get the first chapter for Free.
This post is part of a monthly series called Parenting Children with Special Needs. This month’s topic is “Food, Diet, and Mealtimes“. Read more on this topic by other parents of special needs children here:
Food Issues: Are They Behavioral, Sensory Related or Medical? | Every Star is Different
How We’re Gradually Introducing New Food Into Our Son’s Restricted Diet | My Home Truths
Nutrition for Childhood Trauma | The Chaos and The Clutter
Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism | And Next Comes L
How to Help a Non Verbal Autistic Child at Make Meal Time Choices| Kori at Home
The 7 Food Battles Not Worth Fighting About With Your Picky Eater with Special Needs | Finding the Golden Gleam
5 Things to Know About Food Allergies And Kids | 3 Dinosaurs
More Resources For Dealing with Sensory “Issues”
To help you remember some of these strategies and understand sensory behavior and what to do in the moment, I’ve put together this amazing poster set on how to understand your child’s sensory struggles and discipline sensory meltdowns.
These posters give you tips on how to help your child regulate their sensory needs, and identify what your child’s behavior is really telling you!
There’s also a list of 7 common myths about sensory behavior. I dispel these misconceptions so you can gain a deeper understanding of what sensory really is.
Ok, you might be thinking…
This all sounds great but…
- What should I do when my child is having a meltdown?
- How do I create sensory strategies that are going to help my unique child?
- How exactly do I get them to use those strategies in the moment?
In my next blog post, I’ll share how to create sensory tools that are going to help your specific child. I’ll also tell you what to do in the moment when your child is in sensory overload and having a meltdown!
But right now, download your FREE Handle Any Sensory Challenge posters so you can get a deeper understanding of sensory and start implementing some sensory activities and routines with your family!