Melanie Potock with a young client who is trying baked apple strips for the first time.
For most of my career as a speech-language pathologist, I have focused on feeding treatment. Whether I'm treating a picky eater or a child transitioning from tube feedings to oral feedings, it's ultimately about the joy of being together while we eat. That's what I want families to know—learning to eat new foods is exciting when you do it together and with a happy heart!
Over the years, I have made up silly food songs and danced my little clients over to the kitchen table for some major food fun, like a pudding "car wash." Keep in mind that I can't carry a tune and, according to my husband, I definitely can't dance. But I don't care, and neither does a 3-year-old child. They just want me to be goofy and we make quite the comical pair as we dance and sing our way to loving the food we eat!
For many children, learning to eat is hard work. One of my favorite children is Nicholas, age 3, who is struggling with oral-motor coordination. Bit by bit, he learned to suck from a straw and tolerate new textures. Now he is learning to chew. If you could only see the celebration in his kitchen when he bites through a cracker, then carefully watches in a mirror while he "chew, chew, chews" and swallows! He is so proud when he opens wide to show his mom and dad his empty mouth! "It's in my happy tummy!" he shouts. "You did it!" we exclaim as we run madly about the kitchen, high-fiving like a sports team that just scored the winning point. Team Nicholas—that's us!
In the midst of this silliness, my clients teach me about determination, hard work, and courage, because it's often scary to try new foods. During my first visit with a boy who had a g-tube, he proudly showed me some large scars from several surgeries in his young life. Sheepishly, I told him I had a scar too. He squinted as I pointed to the tiny one-inch scar on my upper lip where I had received stitches as a child. "Ah! It is a sign of bravery, Melanie Potock. You are very brave!" he said as I beamed. I've always loved the way he calls me by my full name. It makes me feel quite distinguished and very brave, just like him, just like Nicholas, and just like all the families who support their children as they celebrate every step of the journey to loving their food.