When it comes to achieving a healthy future, a mother’s intuition and the pediatric therapy team at UnityPoint Health – Prairie Parkway made the difference for two-year-old Noah Stalheim.
A sweet, happy child, little Noah seemed to be going through a phase that many parents are familiar with: picky eating. Although this can often be written off as something all children encounter, Noah’s mother, Katie, felt it was something more.
“Noah was having difficulty swallowing anything besides baby food. Something was just not right. We knew we needed help.”
Katie reached out to her family for advice and learned from an aunt about the pediatric therapy at Prairie Parkway. Her aunt had seen her daughter encounter similar issues as Noah and experienced success working with pediatric occupational therapist, Thea Kurtz, MS, OTR/L. After meeting with Noah and his parents, Thea agreed Noah was showing signs of something more serious than typical childhood food preferences, which could cause additional issues as well.
“If kids have entire food groups they are missing, it is often beyond picky eating and there is a greater feeding difficulty there. It can start off as a physiological issue but after it continues for so long, children can develop behavior issues and it can cause additional eating problems.”
“Noah would keep gagging until he threw up,” Katie’s husband, Nathan, added. “He would only eat certain things like bacon. It would’ve been helpful if we knew earlier about feeding therapy, but we’re happy we found it when we did.”
By addressing the problem in a laid-back, friendly environment, Thea helped Noah associate food with fun. Using SOS feeding therapy, Noah learned to interact with his food in new ways like kissing, chewing, spitting, and licking. Additionally, he became more comfortable with textures in his mouth through the use of a vibrating toothbrush and was constantly rewarded for his efforts with breaks that included zip lining and toys.
“Using positive experiences with food interaction in a non-threating manner makes a difference. Forcing kids to sit and finish their meals until it’s done is too great of an expectation and creates a negative environment,” Thea says. “Feeding therapy is like a swing. You push them with something difficult then let them come back with fun rewards.”
Armed with positive enforcement and a trusting relationship with Thea, Noah made great progress. Now able to get the essential healthy nutrients he needs to grow strong, he is ready to take on any challenges the future holds.
Nathan hopes other families can learn from Noah’s story as well.
“Sometimes you need an outside perspective. The fact that feeding therapy is available was huge. All the things we tried here, he would have had trouble doing them at home. But he would then come to Thea and he would work with her and then come back home and work with us in the same manner and we would see progress.”
Katie agrees and advises parents to trust their instincts when it comes to their children’s health.
“As a parent talking to other parents, you can feel it when something is wrong in your gut. Just trust yourself when it feels like something is not right. Pursue seeking help.”
To learn more about pediatric therapy services at UnityPoint Health – Prairie Parkway, ask your child’s primary care provider or call (319) 222-2901.