Friday 26 July 2019

Food Jagging ... Say What Now?

**** If you feel that you or your child are food jagging, please seek advice from a trusted medical professional. ****

The one thing that I am constantly reminded of while on our Autism journey is that there is always something new to learn. There is always an aspect of Autism, or something that is related to Autism, to learn about.

Earlier this year, L attended a food school therapy in the hope that it would broaden his range of foods that he would eat. It had the opposite effect but that is another blog post. But before and during food school, I learnt all about food jagging!

I've always said that the more I know and learn about Autism, then the better off I am to assist my little superheroes. So after hearing the term food jagging, I set out to find out as much about it as I could.

But first a little background. Towards the end of 2018, we started to notice that L was cutting particular foods from his diet. These were foods that he'd normally eat day in, day out. Foods such as green apples. By the beginning of 2019, he no longer wanted to eat green apples. It was at this point when we mentioned this to L's Occupational Therapist that she said "It sounds like he is food jagging." Say what now???

The term "food jagging" describes when a child wants to eat the same foods, that are prepared in the same way, every day and sometimes at every meal. When a child "jags" on a particular food, it is very likely that they will eventually tire of that particular food and they will eliminate it entirely from their diet. This is exactly what L did with green apples (as well as a host of other foods.)

Put simply, food jagging is when an individual limits their diet to a couple of their favourite foods and they then start to eliminate foods from their diet that they once happily ate.

Before I go on, it is important to note that food jagging is NOT the same as having a food aversion. Food jagging is not refusing to eat a particular food due to the texture, taste or smell. It is also important to note that during a typical child's development, all children at some point in time will tire of their favourite foods and cut these foods from their diet. But after a few weeks, or perhaps a few days even, they may add that food back into their diet. This is perfectly normal and is not considered to be food jagging.

As with anything, when the food has been cut from a child's diet for a long period of time, that is when it becomes food jagging.

Any child, or adult, can be susceptible to food jagging but those who have a difficulties with eating are at a higher risk of food jagging, in other words those who have food aversions may be prone to food jagging.

There are many reasons as to why an individual starts food jagging. It could be due to poor oral development which means that the individual is unable to properly eat or chew the foods being offered. They may have developed a negative association to the food - they may have become ill after eating the food. There is a train of thought that children may food jag as it is a way in which they can assert their independence and have some control over what is happening in their every day life. With L eliminating green apples from his diet, I honestly think he just got tired of eating them. Individuals may food jag if they're not offered new foods on a regular basis or they may develop anxiety over trying a new food.

While eliminating a few foods from a diet may not be cause for significant concern, if a child (or an adult) continues to food jag for an extended period of time, they may significantly limit the amount of food and types of food in their diet. Food jagging can cause a lack of variety and poor nutrition. There is a risk that the individual may become tired of eating their other favourite foods and eliminate other words as well. Food jagging can mean that mealtimes become stressful for themselves and their loved ones.

So what can you do??

If your child will only eat a limited range of foods, continue to offer them a varied and healthy diet on a regular basis. The more foods that a child is offered on a regular basis provides greater opportunities for the child to expand their food repertoire.

You could offer your child the opportunity to assist with the food shopping and food preparation. In assisting with the food preparation, this alone will introduce your child to new textures and smells. They may also be more inclined to try the food as they have helped to prepare it or have chosen the food.

When you offer your child the desired food, offer it with other healthy nutritious choices and in small portion sizes. A large portion size may be too over whelming for a child to deal with and manage to eat. We offer new foods to  in bite size portions alongside foods that we know that he will eat. Through talking with L's Occupational Therapist, she mentioned that some foods have big smells and the smell of the food alone may put children off from eating the food. Foods such as egg, fish, chicken, certain types of cheese, salami. Offering these in small portions may reduce the smell a little.

When offering new foods, rather than putting them on the same plate as foods that your child will eat, offer them on a separate plate. You could place this plate on the opposite side of the table so that your child will tolerate them in their personal space and then gradually move the plate closer to your child. We've used this strategy with L and he has ended up trying small bite sized pieces of the food.

When offering the foods that your child will normally eat, prepare them and serve them in slightly different ways. The changes should be noticeable enough so that your child is able to see the change but subtle at the same time so that your child will accept the food to eat at that point in time. You could change the shape of the food, the colour or alter the flavour slightly. Generally the shape is the easiest way to change food but also your child is more likely to accept that change. The final change that you should make to food is the texture. From experience, changing the texture of food can often cause the most stress for a child who has a limited diet.

When offering new foods, try to make the environment as fun and relaxed as possible and offer the new foods alongside foods that you know that they like. If the child feels relaxed, they may be more inclined to try the new food.

We've begun to reintroduce green apples in small amounts to L but we know that the process could take some time. We've set small, realistic goals so that L knows that there is no pressure what-so-ever.

Lastly when you are introducing new foods to your child, or if your child is food jagging, try to remain calm and not take it personally if your child refuses to eat the food. There's quite possibly a genuine reason behind why your child is unable to tolerate the food.

I'd love to hear any tips or tricks that you have used to introduce new foods to your children.

Friday 19 July 2019

Calming Breathing Strategies for Children

Both O and L struggle with emotional regulation and over the last few years, we've tried many different strategies. The one that they both keep going back to, is calming breathing techniques.

Calming breathing techniques have to be one of the best tools that we can equip our children with to use when they need to manage their own emotions. Both O and L have a sensory tool kit that generally goes everywhere with them. But at times, it just isn't possible to send the tool kit. Their breath on the other hand, they will always have that.

Teaching children different calming breathing techniques gives them a simple yet very effective strategy for slowing down, physically, emotionally and mentally. Calming breathing techniques can assist children to take notice of how they are emotionally and physically feeling and can also help them to relax and calm when they feel overwhelmed.

I've used calming breathing techniques for my own two little superheroes as well as with other children that have been in my care. A few years ago I found a book titled "Little Monkey Calms Down," which I used to introduce calming breathing techniques to O and L. I then went onto use the book in an early learning setting to explain mindfulness to children as young as two years of age. And you what? It actually worked.

I've found that if I model to a child how to use calming breathing techniques when they are experiencing BIG emotions, they are more likely to want to start using the breathing techniques themselves.

Now there are many, many sites on which you can find different breathing techniques and visuals, but unfortunately we've never been able to find visuals that both O and L liked. So over this past week, I sat down with O and L and they helped to make visuals using images that they liked.

We will print these out, laminate them and put them onto a small key ring so that they're handy for when O and L need to use them.

Dragon Breathing

O ... I like to do dragon breathing when I am angry or frustrated.
L ... Me too. It very noisy and good for when I angry.
O ... You can make lots of noise when you roar like a dragon which helps to get the anger and frustration out.
L ... Yeah, cos dragons can be very angry.
O ... Some dragons are friendly but they can be very noisy. To do dragon breathing you take a deep breath in through your nose. When you breathe out through your mouth, you roar like a dragon and all of your frustration and anger comes out with the roar.
L ... Yeah, like, ROARRRRRRR!

Snake Breathing
O ... Snake breathing is something that I like to do when I am sad because it's a sad sounding noise.
L ... This one too hard for me.
O ... It's okay L, we just need to practise it more, we can practise together. To do snake breathing, you take a deep breath in through your nose. Then when you breathe out through your mouth, you hiss very quietly like a sad snake. It sounds like a long sssss sound.
L ... Oh okay.
O ... I really like this one when I'm sad because it helps me to control my breathing too.

Honey Bee Breathing
O ... Some people call this Bumble Bee breathing but I like Honey Bee breathing better because I've never seen a bumble bee but I've seen lots of honey bees.
L .... You can buzzzz like a bee.
O ... You can! Or you can hum like a bee. I like honey bee breathing when I am worried as it calms me down and helps me to think a little clearer. To do this one, you take a deep breath in through your nose. Then when you breathe out through your mouth, you hum quietly. I like to do this one with my eyes closed so that I don't become distracted by what is happening around me.

Candle Breathing
O ... Candle breathing is another one that is good for when I am sad because it helps to slow down my breathing when I am sad or upset. I use this when I am hurt as well because it sometimes takes my mind away from whatever it hurting.
L ... Like when you broked your arm sissy?
O ... Good remembering L. To do candle breathing, you take a deep breath in through your nose. When you breathe out through your mouth, you have to imagine that you are blowing out a candle.
L ... A birthday candle!
O ... Just like a birthday candle but with one long slow breath.

Balloon Breathing
O ... Mummy, what is this one good for?
Me ... This one is sometimes called belly breathing,
L ... Belly breathing, that funny!
Me .... Belly breathing or balloon breathing helps to teach your body how to take deep slow breaths.
O ... So it would be good to help to calm you down if you're feeling sad or worried?
Me ... It sure would, but it takes practise because as you breathe in, you need to imagine that there is a balloon in your tummy that is expanding.
O ... We could use the expanding ball for this one!
L ... Oh I like that ball.
Me ... The expanding ball is great to use when practising this breathing. As you breathe in, you can expand the ball. And as you breathe out, you can make the ball smaller.
O ... You could pretend that your hands are the balloon too. When you breathe in, your hands could move apart like a balloon being blown up. And when you breathe, your hands could move together like the balloon is getting smaller.

Me ... Thank you for helping to explain all of these breathing techniques.
O ... You're welcome Mummy.
L ... You welcome Mummy.

Sunday 14 July 2019

Sensory Souls Train Day 2019

Over the past few years we've attended a few sensory friendly events that were organised and conducted by an organisation called Sensory Souls. We've been to numerous Sensory Santa sessions, Stand Up Paddle Boarding and a train event last year.

Sensory Souls is a Queensland based organisation that organises, coordinates and conducts sensory friendly events for individuals who have additional needs both in Queensland and in other states of Australia. They recently won the Disability and Inclusion category in the National Awards for Local Government in conjunction with the Moreton Bay Regional Council for the Backstage Pass Program. The Backstage Pass allows families and individuals access to Council Libraries after hours in a low sensory environment.

Sensory Souls was originally developed to support families, children and individuals to have fun in a range of positive experiences and activities in a safe an judgement free environment. Initially Sensory Souls organised Sensory Santa sessions and they've now evolved into offering other activities and experiences.

For those not in the know, a sensory friendly event typically looks like a pretty ordinary outing. It differs in that the number of participants are limited so that the activity is not too overcrowded, the noise or music may be kept to a minimum so as not to overwhelm the participants and the lights may be dimmed if the event is at an indoor venue. Most of the events are activities that the majority of society would take for granted but for children and adults who have sensory processing difficulties, keeping all the above factors at a minimum, means that the likelihood of the child or adult having a meltdown because they are in sensory overload is less likely.

During the last school holidays, Sensory Souls ran their very popular Train Day. We went along to this for last year and the little superheroes had a ball. So off we went again, this time we took two of their friends.

The Train Day is conducted at the Pine Valley Railway by the Queensland Society of Model and Experimental Engineers - a huge group of individuals from all walks of life who share a common interest ... making engineering models of trains. Lots of trains. In other words, they're just big kids who love the trains!

The Pine Valley Railway is open to the public by invitation only and once a year the members of the organisation join forces with Sensory Souls to conduct a train day for children and adults who have additional needs.

The Pine Valley Railway truly is spectacular. It's situated on a piece of landscaped land that is five acres in size and has over 2000 metres of ground level track and approximately 180 metres of elevated track. There are tunnels, bridges, round houses, signal boxes, train crossings and all of the other things that you'd expect to see on a real life train line. There are also areas for children to run around and play, picnic tables and a small canteen.

In terms of the trains there are steam trains and replicas of diesel locomotives. There was even a replica of the Pacific National, a HUGE LOONG freight train!

The steam trains when under full steam were truly spectacular.

This Mama spotted the little red caboose and was in love. One of my all time favourite Golden Books as a child was the story about the little red Caboose. By the end of the day, there were lots of photos of the little red caboose on my camera!!

On the Train day, the members of QSMEE had numerous trains running for the families to ride on. Trains were leaving the main train station every ten minutes or so, so everyone was able to have numerous train rides. O, L and their two friends were very impressed that each time they rode a train, they went around the circuit three times! And when on the steam train, they were quick to remind each other "close your eyes and mouth in the tunnel!" Otherwise you might get a mouth full of smoke and steam!


O and her fiend G, were fascinated by the scribbly lines on one of the old gum trees so I took the opportunity to give them a little nature lesson. Scribbly Gums are spectacular Australian Eucalyptus species that get their name from the scibbly lines that are left on their smooth bark. The tracks are tunnels that are made by the larvae of the Scribbly Gum Moth!

If you are interested in visiting the Pine Valley Railway, you'll need to visit their website and send off an expression to visit the site. As I previously mentioned, the site is invitation only so make sure you get in early as I'm told their open days are very popular and they are book out very early.

Sensory Souls is a not for profit organisation and they do rely heavily on their volunteer base to run these events as well as their sponsors. So from our family to Leah and Chanelle and all at Sensory Souls, thank you for everything that you do. We truly do appreciate these events.