The Children's Institute Blog

Celebrating National OT Month: Drew’s Story

Posted: Apr 03, 2017 by The Children's Institute

Drew Johnson was born Sept. 22, 2013 a typical central Pennsylvania kid. A texture aversion meant that eating, though, was not negotiable.

“We tried everything – mashed potatoes, a smushed banana. When it hit his mouth, he’d throw up,” said his mother, Jillian. “He would only take two different kinds of baby food and it was Stage One Gerber, the smoothest kind.”

After Gerber changed its ingredients and, in turn, the texture of the food, even that was off the table. Jillian battled to get her son to drink chocolate Pediasure. At times, she felt like there was no hope.

Drew eventually made some progress at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., going so far as to try peanut butter, when an occupational therapist, a former Pittsburgh student, told her about The Children’s Institute. After a five-and-a-half week inpatient stay this year in Squirrel Hill, working with occupational therapist Leslie Paat and student occupational therapist Stacey Sabu, we are excited to report that Drew is eating solid food.

“They asked at The Children’s Institute, ‘What’s your ultimate goal?’ and I said, ‘My dream is that he’d chew and swallow one thing,’” Jillian said. “Then one day at home, we were getting pizza. And he took a bite and was, like, ‘Yummy pizza!’ We just sat there and cried. This is a kid who wouldn’t even touch Jell-O.”

“I think the highlight of Drew's admission, for me, was when he ate an M&M for the first time -- and enjoyed it!
He was so proud of himself, and he started eating M&M's regularly, not because he had to, but because he wanted to,” Leslie, his occupational therapist, said recently.

“Eating is not just about the mechanics of chewing and swallowing. It is a very social activity – something to be enjoyed – and Drew achieved that. Enjoyment is something that can't be measured by repetitions or by independence levels, but it is an outcome that is nonetheless a marker of great success.”
Leslie helped Drew, now 3, achieve his feeding goals through tactile activities that included “messy play” and the creative use of foods presented in a kid-friendly way - like blue Jell-O complete with Swedish fish “swimming” in it.

Movement activities that included balance, timing, and coordinating the use of both sides of his body were also used to help support the development of oral motor skills required for chewing and moving food around in his mouth.

“The things they came up with were awesome – he thought it was fun,” Jillian said.

Mom’s continued the work at home, introducing one new food each week. She’s happy to say Drew now also eats chicken fries, and cheddar and sour cream potato chips, among other foods. But she reserves her kindest words for Leslie and Stacey.

“I can’t say enough good things about the people there,” Jillian told me. “We came home and he’s eating Pop Tarts, popcorn, bacon. Sometimes, I’ll just sit there and watch him eat. It’s things like that you take for granted.”

“The fact that my son can participate in family meals, that’s just amazing,” she added. “We definitely have a new routine.”

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