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How To Do Food Chaining Therapy: "Everything is a Grasshopper" Marsha Dunn Klein

Posted Jun 27 2008 12:00am
Many people understand the ideas of Food Chaining and it makes sense, but when it comes down to actually doing it, things can go horribly wrong. First of all, therapists or parents may do part of the program and not all of it (picking food that the therapist thinks matches the child's sensory eating profile vs basing changes on ratings, rushing, pushing past all the stages in the sensory hierarchy, huge portions) and then everyone feels worse than when you started.

I recommend that everyone read Marsha Dunn Klein's websites (Mealtime Notions/Mealtimes Connections) and read the story "Everything is a Grasshopper" about a dining experience she had. Marsha had to eat real grasshoppers (seasoned, but oh my!) and she really makes you think about how children must feel at the table. Like they are trying to eat a grasshopper. Share Marsha's story (you can print it and give it to your families). Think of grasshoppers when you introduce new foods. Go slow. Usually when things go bad, something similar to this occurs...

When you start something new in a therapy session or at home, you give off vibes (you may be anxious, filled with anticipation, maybe a bit fearful) and the child immediately knows something is up. You must assess the mood of the moment, the day and the meal. Start small, small steps and don't ever say, "Take a Bite." Those words are the kiss of death.

So keep the grasshopper in your mind and imagine what usually occurs....

The child is called to the table. Hard enough even with favorite foods. Everyone is looking at him. Something is up. Put yourself in his shoes. He is a bit tired, hungry, coming to the table expecting chicken nuggets and fries and instead...he sees grasshoppers. Appetite...gone. He is not ready for this to be offered as "food" yet. Think of new foods as objects to learn about before you even consider pushing a child to eat. Even one grasshopper on the plate by his favorite food is enough to kill appetite, bring out emotions and end your meal, maybe end meals for days. You may pick up a piece of this new "food" and push it up by the child's face. It is still a grasshopper. You say, "Take a bite and I will take you to Toys R Us." Nope, definitely no toy or cash prize worth eating a grasshopper.


But what if things were slightly different, say you had your food on your plate safe and sound, you are outside, relaxed, having a cook out and you just watched a single grasshopper on the end of your picnic table. Far enough away to feel safe. You laugh and talk about a grasshopper and watch him jump. You might even look online to learn more about a grasshopper's life. You might even eventually feel like you could touch one. Or you might put a leaf up by the grasshopper and see if you can get him to jump or get on the leaf. In other words, you learn and explore...just like we learn about food in our programs done the right way, but you don't grab him and force him chow down. Why? Because food to these kids, any new food is the equivalent of what Marsha endured in another country. A Grasshopper.

So ask yourself... if you are forced to eat a grasshopper, do you think you want to come to the table again? What is easier, eating a whole grasshopper or just a foot? Still feel like you are going to barf? Me too, but I would choose a foot first.
Are you being "behavioral" if you refuse or are you just protecting yourself?
If you had a g-tube for your nutrition and someone stopped using it and offered you grasshoppers, would you eat?
Would you eat a grasshopper with dip on it? Nope. Still a grasshopper.
Marsha ate it after watching others do it, with lots of seasoning and wrapped up in a tortilla, scary, but it would be more palatable.

You probably feel queasy just reading this...so do our kids when they are at the table with us.
The child feels it 1000x's more. The more you remember this analogy and use it in treatment, the fewer mistakes you will make. This is not about how you perceive food and taste, this is about how the child perceives it.
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