Solving the problem of picky eaters

April 20, 2008 8:28:14 AM PDT
It is a perennial problem for parents - children who are picky eaters. In South Jersey, there is a program making big progress, even with the most challenging cases.

Ilana Silbert, a speech language pathologist, says to her student, "Ben: we're going to start with? Washing our hands..."

You'd never know it now, but 6-year-old Ben Sattinger used to be one tough customer at food time.

He'd only eat a few foods.

His mother, Julie says, "It had to be a certain kind of peanut butter, a certain kind of bread, and if you tried to trick him, he would know."

Nearly every child goes through some stage of pickiness.

But it's often more intense... and can be long-lasting... for kids like Ben, who has autism and attention deficits.

Rizza Mirro, the program director, remembers, "His neck stiffened, he lost eye contact. He would stop talking, he was rocking in his chair, just when food was presented."

Then Ben started working with Ilana Silbert. She's a speech pathologist at the Communication Station in Marlton.

Here... food is fun... with no pressure to eat.

Mirro says, "They're not going to be forced, like other programs."

Silbert first identified the textures, smells, and tastes Ben didn't like.

Then, using games, she gradually de-sensitized him..... in 5 steps that she says can by used by ANY family dealing with a picky eater.

"Tolerating it, interacting with it, touching it, and then being able to go near the mouth, and finally, eating it," Mirro says.

Ben's mother Julie continued the lessons at home.

She engages Ben in a food game, saying, " I can finish my ravioli in 2 bites. How many can you do it in?"

And she says even away from home, her son is now a good eater.

Julie says, "It blows me away when I see how willing he is now to try new things."

And Julie says Ben is happier now... and so is the family.... Because mealtime is no longer a battle.