Arianna's mother details her daughter's food anxiety and selectivity — which made mealtimes stressful and upsetting — and her turnaround with the help of CHOP's Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Center.
When Arianna was 2 years old, she was extremely selective about the foods she ate. At mealtime, it was a struggle to get her to eat even the few things she liked: yogurt, peanut butter and a few desserts. She had extreme anxiety toward foods, making mealtime very upsetting for her and the rest of our family.
Our pediatrician recommended we take her to the Day Hospital Intensive Feeding Program, part of the Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, so we could begin to address her food selectivity and anxiety.
I didn't know what to expect from the program. I was nervous about how Arianna would take to the staff and the program itself.
Starting food school
For four weeks, we came to the Day Hospital — Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During that time, Arianna had three mealtime sessions each day where specialists worked with her to get to the root of her anxiety toward food. After just a few sessions it was clear we'd come to the right place.
Arianna was very comfortable with everyone she met and started to enjoy her "food school" schedule. In addition to her sessions in the Day Hospital, she had occupational therapy to help her overcome anxiety toward touching certain foods and textures. The therapists addressed Arianna’s anxiety in a no-pressure, fun and playful way.
The most difficult part of the program was finding things to do between Arianna’s sessions. And actually, it wasn’t that difficult! CHOP has so many options for families looking for ways to stay busy.
The Connelly Resource Center for Families on the eighth floor of the Hospital has nap rooms, a library and an amazing staff. CHOP’s internal radio station, The Voice, has fun guests and programs. When it was nice out, we went for walks around the University of Pennsylvania campus. And there was always the playroom for games and activities. There was much more to do at the Hospital than we expected.
Arianna's progress was incredible. After less than four weeks of treatment, she was eating 23 new foods! But our work wasn't finished — we had to follow the protocol set up at the Day Hospital once we got home.
It took some significant time management, but once we got a meal schedule down it wasn't too difficult. Watching as she continued to progress at home was great motivation, and our family and friends noticed the difference in her demeanor at mealtimes right away.
After sticking to the program for a few more months, then slowly and systematically moving on to more normal mealtimes, Arianna graduated! Now she's eating like a normal 3-year-old. Most nights, she eats the same things we do for dinner. We can go to restaurants and parties without bringing her a special meal and she asks for food and tries new foods on her own.
Our experience at CHOP's Day Hospital Feeding Program was positive from beginning to end. The team truly understood Arianna's feeding issues, which made it possible to tailor the program to her specific needs and the concerns of our family.
The staff members we met throughout the hospital were wonderful. They did everything they could to make sure we were happy and well cared for during our long days, explain what they were doing and why, teach us how to work with Arianna at home, and keep us on the right track through follow-up appointments.
Everything was for the singular goal of making her treatment a success. Our family is so thankful for the care we received.
By Arianna's mom, June 2012