Oatmeal, barbeque chicken, applesauce and sweet potatoes. Together, they’re healthy food options for any growing youngster. But, if that’s all he’ll eat from day to day, it’s reasonable that his parents may get concerned.
Food aversion is one of the challenges that Melissa and Chad Chesley have experienced with their nine-year-old son Carson. Just as they had called upon Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida to provide in-home behavior, occupational, physical and speech therapies to Carson, who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at a young age, they also have looked to Easterseals’ TR-eat® Model (Transdisciplinary Effective Assessment and Treatment) for answers to his selective eating.
The TR-eat® Model includes behavior strategies that are combined with skill building, facilitation, sensory desensitization, and oral motor intervention to help children overcome their resistance to non-preferred foods.
Carson had been receiving Easterseals services for a couple the of months when the TR-eat® Model became available to him. Melissa recalled the extent of Carson’s food aversions when he began the program.
“During Hurricane Matthew (in late September 2016), we had evacuated. Out of our home, Carson doesn’t really eat very much anyway, but then he contracted a couple of stomach bugs (during that time) and had stopped eating all his foods but one,” remembered Melissa.
Carson was so underweight at one point that it concerned his primary care doctor, who had strongly suggested Carson use a feeding tube as a solution. But, his parents were hopeful for a better way.
During the same time period, Easterseals therapist Amy Michaelis also had been supporting Carson and family in the home with feeding strategies. Carson did not (and still doesn’t) like to eat anywhere other than home and that includes school, explained Melissa, but Amy was able to harness some eating victories with Carson that gave the family hope.
“Once there was success with a new, more portable food: Uncrustables® sandwiches,” said Melissa. “Amy went to school a couple of times and had a session with Carson with the new food. (Before that) he had never eaten at school at all. Most days he’d go from 7 p.m. to 5 p.m. the next day without eating.”
At the same time, Carson began the TR-eat® Model as part of his occupational therapy sessions at Easterseals. He slowly started trying new foods and was eating the sandwiches at school. “The good news is he went from not eating all day to eating during the day,” said Melissa. “And now, he’ll still eat the new food but also eat things before it and with it.”
In addition to his appetite for foods slowly expanding through the TR-eat® Model, Carson has experienced impressive leaps in his speech development, said his mother.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick in his language,” said Melissa. “He went from one-word requests to actual sentences. We are on the verge of something really big.”
“I think of the word ‘advocacy’ all the time,” said Chad. “When I think of Carson or any of my children, I think, ‘what is their fullest potential?’ So, it doesn’t matter if Carson has a diagnosis. Whatever his fullest potential is, we want him to reach it. If other people want to be part of that, because we don’t know exactly what that looks like, then it’s exciting for us.”
Melissa, who now works side by side with Easterseals therapists in her role as Easterseals Chief Financial Officer, can’t say enough good things about her colleagues.
Said Melissa: “I have personal experience with them, and we’ve spent a lot of time together. All of the therapists here are amazing.”
The Chesley family is anticipating being a part of the 2019 Honorary Ambassadors program. Join Carson and his family for Walk With Me on April 26 in Daytona Beach. Connect with their team, register to walk or donate at www.walkwithme.org/daytona.