Sometimes the biggest barrier to inclusion for individuals with disabilities is their family.
For fear that their child will be hurt, parents can sometimes overcompensate and overprotect.
I’m guilty of this sometimes, even though I try really hard to have similar expectations for Troy as I have for my typical children. It’s human nature, I suppose.
But we must practice what we preach! If I want Troy to be included in our community, then I need to create equity and inclusion within our home.
Family meals are a simple way that I’ve created equity in our home.
Troy is expected to help set the table, sit with his family during meals, and help clear off and clean the table when we’re finished.
Seems like a simple routine, and he’s pretty proficient at this now. But believe me when I say it took YEARS of throwing food and Troy getting up and down to clean up the mess before he mastered this routine.
My approach to this routine all started with Baby Led Weaning. The new book, “Born to Eat,” creates a whole philosophy surrounding BLW and family-centered meals that really piqued my interest as a special needs mom.
May be you’ve heard of it, but don’t think it’s appropriate for children with disabilities. It does seem intimidating at face value:
- When child shows readiness for solid foods, parent presents whole food options (that are appropriate in texture for an infant) that the rest of the family is already eating. (no time or money sent on baby food jars, or making your own baby purees)
- Parent decides what, when, and where a child eats.
- Child decides how much and if he/she wants to eat.
-Cue the worried parent-
Listen, I’ve been there.
We all worry that our child isn’t eating enough, but this philosophy is really about honoring self-regulation and self-reliance in your child. Two attributes that are so important to the success of individuals with Down syndrome.
The best part is “Born To Eat” takes a nonjudgmental approach. You can dive in, or just implement parts of baby-led weaning.
But what about oral motor issues, you ask? It’s true, many babies and children with Down syndrome have feeding issues.
“Born to Eat” author, Wendy Jo Peterson, says you should always consult your pediatrician before starting any solid foods with your child, but a whole foods approach may actually benefit a child with oral-motor sensory issues.
Most feeding experts that Wendy Jo works with feel that empowering a child early on to work on these skills is important, but all agree that this may not be appropriate for all infants all the time.
Every parent has to navigate these waters on their own and seek the support of feeding experts who truly understand a Baby-led feeding approach.
Dr. Katja Rowell is an excellent resource for parents who wish to try a baby-led approach, she was one of “Born To Eat’s” technical readers, and fully supports a BLW approach to feeding infants.
The American Speech-Language and Hearing Association also has a blog post on the benefits of BLW here.
Children often begin to develop picky eating habits early on. “By using varied textures and flavors early on infants (when they are most apt to be accepting to new things) can become acquainted with these flavors and textures.
“Picky eating to a degree is natural,” Wendy Jo explains.
Understanding the Division of Responsibility (coined by Ellyn Satter) can help every parent navigate these waters and learn how their own responses contribute to picky eating.
In the book, “Born To Eat” shares examples of positive language around the dinner table, and reminds parents that children have the right to what they choose to chew or not.
The less we react the less the table becomes a battleground. Food should not be a battleground or used as punishment or reward.
“Food only becomes an issue when we make it an issue,” author Wendy Jo Peterson explains.
Embracing a family-centered, whole-foods approach is a simple way to start on the path to self-regulation and self-reliance in our children with Down syndrome. Both of these attributes will serve them well in other parts of their life.
In Part 2 of this book review, I’ll talk to a Speech and Language Pathologist who will walk us through the specific benefits of a baby-led weaning approach and how to start on your child on solid foods.
Disclosure: I received no compensation, sponsoring, financial incentive, or other inducements to write this article