Our Sensory Struggle

I think I first notice Avery’s sensory issue when she was just under one. We had just begun to feed her some table food, and I noticed that she had an aversion to scrambled eggs and would gag while trying to eat them. I thought no big deal, she probably just doesn’t like them, is still getting used to table food and chewing, and will probably grow out of it.

A few more months came and went she was still struggling with eggs and had added a few more foods to the list. Noodles, potatoes (in any form), refried beans, bananas, and oatmeal all now made her gag as well. The gagging had also gotten slightly worse too. Now, instead of just gagging when the food was in her mouth, she would start to gag before the food had even touched her lips. Literally the sight of some foods would make her gag. Sometimes to the point of throwing up.

Meal times became a huge struggle because there was hardly anything that I could get her to eat. Any food that was remotely squishy, soft, or gummy would set her straight to gagging. That really eliminated a lot of foods. She wouldn’t eat spaghetti, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, mashed potatoes, sloppy joes, and so many other things I tried. Many of them were things that most toddlers love! I think this is how fresh vegetables and fruit really became her favorite foods. She could only handle things that had a firm texture and didn’t necessarily fall apart or disintegrate immediately in her mouth. Cucumbers, bell peppers, blanched broccoli, cubes of ham, chicken or turkey, cheese sticks, and goldfish became ultimate staples in our home. She would eat some combination of those items at nearly every meal.

By 18 months old I was feeling really frustrated. It seemed like each week there was something new to add to the list of foods she didn’t like/couldn’t eat without gagging. For the most part I could kind of tell when a particular food wasn’t going to be a good idea, but sometimes I had no clue when something was going to be a “trigger” and make her puke…until it was too late. Meal planning for our little family was tiring. I didn’t like the idea of fixing separate meals for her, but sometimes I had no choice. My poor hubby definitely didn’t want cucumber slices and ham cubes for dinner every night! I kept holding onto hope that she was going to outgrow it, and that maybe if I kept exposing her to foods in small amounts she would get used to the texture because there were some things she did like; yogurt, cottage cheese, and berries were all on the “safe list” for her, even though all those things have a soft texture. So you can see why I was slightly baffled, but optimistic about progress.

I will say at this point though, we had noticed that the sensory/texture issue had spread beyond meal times. I think she was around 15-18 months old when we tried playing play dough together for the first time. I kid you not, Avery put two fingers on it and gagged. She proceeded to gag every time she looked at it until I put it away. She also would gag and refuse to touch any toy that was soft or rubbery. So squishy balls, silly putty, finger painting, toy animals, or anything else that was weird feeling to her she would refuse to touch/play with.

With my work background, this wasn’t the first time I had seen or been around a child with some sensory sensitivity. Even though I wasn’t super worried about it, naturally it does feel a little different when it’s your own child and you’re dealing with it at home and not just work. Still, I was finding ways to get her the nutrition she needed without giving her “trigger foods,” and I didn’t feel like it was negatively affecting or impairing her daily life. She was happy and healthy and growing normally so I tried not to let it stress me out too much.

Fast forward to present day, and I’m happy to say we have made some progress! She can now handle some trigger foods in small amounts and some others in larger amounts. For instance, peanut butter and jelly and grilled cheese sandwiches are okay every so often, along with mac and cheese, and spaghetti. Waffles and pancakes are good as long as we keep them dry…so no syrup. She still doesn’t care for scrambled eggs or potatoes at all, but she will tolerate a bite or two if I ask her to try it. She doesn’t gag or puke as often as she used to, but every once in a while she’ll give me a little scare and I’ll wince, preparing myself to clean up vomit.

As far as non-food items go, we have made lots of progress! She loves finger painting and play dough now and doesn’t have any trouble at all. Other squishy/rubbery toys aren’t her favorite to hold or play with, but she can do it now without gagging or getting full-body shivers.

How did we get this far? Patience and persistence. I didn’t do anything fancy or amazing other than just to give her time and space and keep encouraging her to make attempts. I didn’t force her to eat anything that would make her puke, but I did continue to put things on her plate if we were having them for dinner. We would show/tell her how delicious it was and encourage her to try it. I think as she has gotten older she understands a little better that even though something might look or feel funny, it can still taste yummy. I can see that the feeling of mac and cheese in her mouth still isn’t something she loves, but I can tell she likes the taste of it more now…enough to put up with the texture. 🙂

I’m hoping she will continue to make even more progress the older she gets, but there may be some foods that she just doesn’t ever love and that’s totally okay! As a grown adult there are foods that I don’t like the texture of (that’s probably where she gets it) and it’s not a big deal to me! If any of you have dealt with issues similar to this, I would love to hear how you handle(d) it, and if you have any tips for me!

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