Just like every other six year old, Emily loves to play with her collection of ‘Coles mini’s’ and ‘Oshies’. She is quick on her feet and always brings her basketball with her to the park. In late 2018, Emily was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which is a development disorder that can affect a child’s ability to learn, communicate and socialise. Emily is the eldest in the family, with a sister Hannah who is three. Their mother, Stacey, was able obtain an NDIS plan for Emily as a result of her ASD diagnosis. This opened up doors for the family at an early stage in Emily’s development. The NDIS meant they could choose the therapies and supports to best meet Emily’s individual needs and goals.
Emily has mild symptoms of ASD, yet it was her strong aversion to foods that caused the biggest concern for the family. Stacey was worried that Emily’s food choices were so limited, that her diet wasn’t able to support her growth and development. It was also having an impact on Emily’s ability to socialise and get out and about, as eating snacks and meals on the go would cause everyone distress.
‘Going out to family dinners or birthdays became a huge chore, I was always worried about what Emily’s reaction would be when we tried to eat’ – Stacey.
Stacey was determined to make the most of Emily’s NDIS plan. As well as visiting specialists for Emily’s other needs, Stacey did her own research in understanding the best ways to approach feeding difficulties in children with ASD. She came across the Sequential Oral Sensory or SOS approach to feeding – a unique program that identifies a child’s individual reasons for their avoidance of certain foods. Stacey was hooked and tried to find a local SOS program that wasn’t going to use up her entire NDIS funding and that wasn’t on the other side of town. It was here that Stacey and Emily met Venetia (Speech Pathologist) and Lisa (Occupational Therapist) at Carrington Health.
‘The SOS feeding approach is all about meeting the child’s comfort level with different foods. There are often patterns with smells, colours, textures, tastes and even the presentation of food that the child might have an aversion to. We explore all of this with them, using play and a bit of creativity to encourage new foods into their diet. SOS stands for ‘Sequential Oral Sensory’ as we stage the program in a ‘sequence’ of steps, so that the child can gradually build up their tolerances to different food properties’ – Venetia, Speech Pathologist.
Stacey was taken aback by Venetia’s ability to connect with Emily, who can be wary of opening up to new people. ‘The clinicians at Carrington Health are clearly very experienced and capable… as soon as we met Venetia, we knew we had made the best decision for Emily. She instantly clicked with her, getting down to her level and chatting in an approachable and easy going way’.
The SOS program designed for Emily was a team effort, with both Lisa and Venetia working together to create the best outcomes for the family. A number of sessions were led by Venetia, with Lisa’s input, so that both Speech and Occupational Therapy were embedded in the program. Stacey was impressed that both therapists were involved in the process, as she saw the benefit in approaching Emily’s needs from different disciplines. As a team, they were able to gradually build up Emily’s acceptance of different foods, providing freedom for the family to get out and about more and include more variety in their cooked meals at home.
‘At one point I looked over and Venetia had placed yoghurt on her own face, as a fun way of making Emily feel comfortable with exploring different textures. She was so hand’s on, it was brilliant!’ -Stacey, pictured with daughter Emily, above.
She further explains, ‘Venetia took us as a family along for the experience, we even simulated meal times together so that as parents we knew what to do at home. It was invaluable’. When asked about why she chose Carrington Health for the SOS program Stacey is really open about her decision; ‘I would have paid anything really for this service, but as it turns out Carrington Health are a community health provider – which means they have a long history of working with families and their services are affordable. It also felt good knowing I was contributing to something that helps other people’.
The process of building on Emily’s learning abilities and potential is ongoing yet the family are thrilled that food is no longer such a big hurdle. They have been able to experiment with different recipes together and can now head out to lunch without feeling as anxious. Stacey plans to revisit the SOS program with Venetia next year for ‘maintenance’, as Emily’s interests and needs may evolve as she grows up. They now feel confident about the future and Stacey is always keen to learn and adapt to Emily’s ever changing world.