How You Can Help A Child With an Eating Disorder

**Trigger warning: this post contains information about eating disorders and anxiety. Please read at your own discretion.**

Kids can be incredibly picky eaters, starting as soon as they start on solids. Two of my three kids are. The other will eat almost anything I cook, and someone will appreciate that one day.

There are differences, however, between being picky, having sensory issues and having an eating disorder. The last example can lead to life long health issues and even death if not treated. A child as young as 7 can be diagnosed with an eating disorder but can be overlooked for many reasons.

Four Kinds of Disordered Eating

Anorexia

  • Eating very little on purpose.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight- there is a fear of looking fat.
  • Distorted body image
  • May use laxatives, diuretics or even enemas to lose weight

Bulimia

  • Overeat and feel out of control to stop doing so
  • Do things purposefully to make up for it, as in throwing up- called purging. To prevent weight gain, they may also use laxatives, diuretics, and enemas along with exercise.
  • Judge themselves on body shape and weight

Binge Eating

  • Overeat and feel out of control
  • Eat large amounts even when not hungry
  • May feel upset/guilty after a binge
  • Often gain weight and become very overweight
  • Usually eat alone so that others do not realize what is going on

Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)

  • Afraid of choking/vomiting
  • No other medical issues that would explain behaviors
  • Do not like smell, taste, texture or color of food
  • Lose or don’t gain expected weight
  • No body image issues

How Does an Eating Disorder Begin?

There are signs and symptoms to watch out for, as in with other disorders, but in this case, it can be seen as a way for a child to exert control over the one thing that nobody else can- their food intake. (This list is meant to use to watch for signs, not diagnose. Please consult a pediatrician or other specialist if you are concerned about your child’s well-being.) This information is from Mirror Mirror

  • Refusing to eat
  • Smaller portions
  • Worried about body image
  • Social withdrawal
  • Hiding/Hoarding food
  • Lack of growth
  • Angry when food is offered
  • Menstruation issues
  • Personality changes (irritability, depression, etc)

Did I cause my child to have an eating disorder?

There is not a single cause for eating disorders. There are events that contribute to them, like environment, stressful events, and genes. Some examples are:

  • Poor body image
  • Over-focus on looks/weight
  • Playing sports that focus on weight
  • Mental health issues
  • A family member with an eating disorder

Sad

What are the Effects of an Eating Disorder on My Child’s Body?

The effects on a child’s body can be devastating. Girls can have irregular, if not stopped periods. Children of both sexes can have issues with:

  • low blood pressure
  • constipation and bloating
  • fatigue, weakness and dizzy (from lack of nutrients)
  • delayed puberty, slow/no growth
  • emotional issues- depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts
  • tooth erosion and cavities

What can I do to help my child?

  • Trust your instinct. If you know something isn’t right, it probably isn’t.
  • Find a treatment provider, either in/outpatient
  • DO NOT BLAME YOURSELF
  • Educate yourself- read everything you can and attend therapy with your child.
  • Do not shame your child for their eating disorder. This can make things worse.

Above information from Kids Health

Some children will need hospitalization due to extreme weight loss and/or medical complications. Some will need medications to help with mental health concerns. Treatment includes counseling (sometimes for the family) and medical care.

A medical professional will complete an exam to assess your child and diagnose an eating disorder if needed.

Being there for your child throughout the process is what they need most. They will need your love, patience, and care while they work on what they need to be a happy, healthy child again.

How To Help A Family with a Medically Fragile Child

**This post covers kids that are medically fragile- meaning severely ill, and/or have other illnesses or disabilities that make daily tasks for their parents/caregivers challenging. I hope I don’t leave anyone out.**

This post is written with two kids in mind- Gillian and Ryan. Their moms, Shelly and Kesha, are complete rock stars. (I know them from high school.)

Both girls have complex medical issues and have battled so much in their young lives. They have siblings that have had to adjust to their sisters’ illnesses.

I follow both of their Facebook pages for updates.

Support is a Gift

Most parents of kids with medical issues are very grateful for any support they receive. I’ve never seen anything but this from Shelly and Kesha. In fact, Ryan gives back to her community when she is able to and I think that is neat.

How can you support these families?

  • Offer to watch any siblings, and then take them to do something fun. Siblings can miss out on fun things in the middle of hospitalization. Many worry about things that they aren’t quite old enough to understand and going to do kid things for a while can help ease that.
  • Bring meals. Everyone has to eat, right? If the family is nearby, they may really appreciate not having to worry about cooking so much. If they are at a hospital far from home, gift cards can be a huge help. It alleviates a financial worry plus what to eat. If you’re able, try to organize meals with other friends of the family.
  • Don’t shut the family out. The parents may be busy with their child’s appointments or other needs, but they still need adult time. They need interaction that doesn’t revolve around their child. Keep them up to date on events around them.
  • Bring fun things for the child in the hospital or at home. It is not fun at all to be hospitalized or at home for an extended period of time. Kesha has an Amazon list for Gillian because so many people asked what she wants or needs during her extended hospitalization. These things help pass the time and keep the child entertained. They can even bring a bit of happiness.
  • Just be there. This can be invaluable. Sometimes the parents just need someone to vent or cry to. Ask the parents how they are doing.

This is not a complete list of everything you can do- there are many other ways you can be helpful. The ideas I listed are just a starting point.

All parents need support, whether their child is well or not. We’re in this together, right?

Do you have ideas to add to the list? Please leave them in the comments. Have you had a friend help your family or have you helped a family while a child was hospitalized?

A Quick Guide on Redshirting for Kindergarten

Kindergarten.

For many families, this is a day that many kids and parents have been looking forward to for a long time. There might be a few tears on both sides, but in general, it’s a big step towards growing up for a child.

Some parents, however, hesitate at this idea. Nine percent of kindergarten-age children are “academically redshirted” each year, according to Very Well Family

This is the decision to hold a child back a year, even if they are the correct age for school. The cut off is different by state, and even by county. For example, the cut off in Jefferson County, Kentucky is now August 1. It was still October 1 when Lily went to kindergarten in 2014.

Blocks

The School Debate

Cameron and Lily have January and February birthdays, so they are among the first to have birthdays in their classes. Cameron finds it hilarious that when he turns 15, he will be one of the first freshmen to do so. Lily will be 12 in the middle of her 6th-grade year. Julian, however, has a July birthday. He is usually one of, if not the youngest, in his class. He will graduate at 17, which he thinks is great. However, I almost redshirted him.

Julian has always been small for his age, even before the Vyvanse stunted his growth. That wasn’t a concern, because he can most certainly take care of himself. If not, Cameron is a good backup.

When Julian was about to start kindergarten, however, he had not yet been diagnosed and I wasn’t sure he was ready- socially. He is a very smart kid, but he was aggressive, hyper and destructive. I was afraid kindergarten would be a disaster. His second year of preschool was not going well- we got notes once a week about his behavior, and most of them were not great.

At home, he was so aggressive towards his siblings that they wouldn’t even play with him. This was a huge change from the boys getting into things together. Lily couldn’t talk well, but she knew to stay away.

I debated for months on whether to send him to kindergarten or not. I went ahead with it because I didn’t want whatever issues he had to further hold him back. I thought that he would get worse if I held him back. Plus, I didn’t think a third year of preschool would go well if that was even a possibility.

Julian was enrolled and I hoped for the best.

He hid under the cafeteria table at kindergarten orientation. I have never forgotten this. I was embarrassed, horrified and anxious at the same time. I had to peel his small hands off the table legs to get him to go with the teachers and other kids.

Kindergarten was as rough as I had anticipated, complete with meltdowns at school. He did get a full neuropsychological evaluation in November 2011 and thankfully was diagnosed with ADHD (combined) and autism (at the time, Asperger’s, now referred to as High Functioning Autism).

He was also medicated for ADHD. This helped a lot. His school helped by creating a 504 Plan, which assisted with behavioral issues. He later received an IEP in the 5th grade.

Am I glad that I sent Julian to school on time? Yes. Had we held him back, I think his issues may have gotten worse. He would have been bored, and that would have created a lot more problems for everyone.

Bus pic

Do You Need a Red Shirt?

Of course, this is an individual decision, and it’s not an easy one. Let’s look at the pros and cons of redshirting a child.

Pros:

  • Less likely to need special education services
  • Less likely to be singled out for negative behavior because they had more time to work on social skills at home/preschool
  • Better motor skills
  • Increased social confidence
  • Reading and math are usually at or above where their peers are

Cons:

  • In the adolescent years, difficulty making and maintaining friendships
  • losing a year of special education services (if needed) due to starting school late
  • May mask learning issues
  • Another year of preschool tuition

Questions to ask yourself while debating the issue:

  • What are the other factors, besides age, makes you feel that your child isn’t ready for kindergarten?
  • If your child has been to preschool, how is that going? Does the teacher feel that your child is ready? Are there concerns?
  • What does your district expect your child to know before going to kindergarten? You can look on their website for this information. Some, like JCPS (Jefferson County Public Schools), have kindergarten readiness programs during the summer to make sure kids are ready.
  • If your child does sit out a year, what will they do during that time to be ready for kindergarten next school year?
  • Does your child have any delays or other developmental issues? If so, can these be addressed once they are in school?

There is so much to consider before sending your child to school, and this may add to the anxiety. This topic is becoming more popular among parents of young children. Take time to think about it if you need to, consult with outside professionals if necessary. Most of all, do what is best for your child.

Did you redshirt your child? Did it go well, or did you regret the decision? Let me know in the comments!

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Very Well Family

My Fearless Leader

There’s a common saying in the autism parenting community that I love: “Autism is a journey I never planned but I sure do love my tour guide.”

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, this post is for Julian. He is now 12, almost as tall as me, and is still my lookalike. Most of all, he is what his psychiatric nurse practitioner calls “well-loved”.

Firetruck pic

In a firetruck at the 2018 FEAT Autism Walk

Back to the Beginning

When he was five, I had no idea what we were in for. I just knew that he needed me and more help than I could give him. I doubted myself so much because even with all of my knowledge and work, I still couldn’t manage him.

I dreaded going out in public because it was a risk- he was a runner. What if he ran off? What if he had a meltdown? His meltdowns were loud and lasted at least a half hour. I made my trips as short as possible. I went out alone when I could so I didn’t have to worry about chasing a very fast kid.

School was a tougher topic. He struggled to sit through kindergarten and didn’t like his teacher but loved her assistant. Even after his ADHD and autism diagnosis and medication, he continued to stay away from his peers. He remained quiet, barely speaking to anyone. Julian was in his own world, both at home and at school.

It turns out that’s a personality trait- he is my quietest child. He won’t talk to people he doesn’t know and needs prompting sometimes to speak to those he does. Eye contact is non-existent and I don’t force it. As long as I see that he’s looking at my face, I know he is listening.

The Road to Now

Julian has spent a lot of his childhood in therapy. He started with a social worker in 2013, a psychiatrist, who recommended group therapy while he was in third grade, and now he sees Ann, his nurse practitioner, once a month.

Group therapy helped more than anything else. I had to pay out of pocket for it because insurance wouldn’t cover it.

I didn’t care.

It was worth every penny. He learned skills that he can use for the rest of his life- sharing, talking about himself in a group, handling challenging emotions, and other topics.

Julian struggles with empathy, even after that was a theme in the group. We work on this a lot. He may say something that hurts another person’s feelings but doesn’t get why.

I explain to him why what he said was not so nice and that he needs to think things out a bit more before speaking (hilarious for me to say that because I am the wrong parent for this) and apologize. Sometimes this works, sometimes I lose him.

Julian also developed a sense of humor. For a while, we weren’t sure if he had one. He didn’t get sarcasm and was so serious. I had to explain jokes to him.

He has been fearless pretty much since he could walk. There have been incidents that resulted in broken bones, staples, stitches and other assorted injuries. None of these things stopped him. As he’s gotten a little older, he has learned to hesitate a little, but he’s still the first to get into something.

Birthday pic

Eating his 4th birthday cake with a cast

Humor finally hit him and I was thrilled. His humor is dry but we appreciate it. Sarcasm is still not a thing for him but it’s not for everyone.

Julian thinks in incredibly concrete ways. He eats certain foods (pretzels are life) in a certain way. He thinks things should happen in a particular order and doesn’t always get why it doesn’t happen like he thinks it should.

However, he’s very smart. Seventh grade has gone well- his IEP focuses on his handwriting (it needs improvement) along with other goals. His grades are good and his best subjects are math and science. He’s always been talented in those subjects.

In many ways, Julian is like most 12-year-olds- he loves playing on his Xbox 360 and riding his bike. He thinks the prank videos on YouTube are the funniest things he’s ever seen. There are just a few quirks involved.

I’m Not an Expert

I read a lot about autism. I worked with kids all over the spectrum for almost five years. I’ve been injured in the process but loved the work. It truly changes you and how you see the world.

Still, I am not an expert. I do not know what it is like to be Julian. I do not know what it is like to be in the lunchroom full of noisy kids and have to block it out so you can eat and try to talk to your friends. I do not know what it feels like to be super bored for a minute or two in class but yet, it feels like forever.

I do, however, know the feeling of wanting to hug a wonderful child who won’t let me because he hates the feeling. I know exactly how it feels to watch your child yell loudly over the shape of pasta because it’s not the right one. This has happened, but not in years.

I’ve often wanted to take a trip inside Julian’s mind, but I know this is impossible. Since I can’t, I try hard to remember where he is and help him through his needs. We don’t let him have everything he wants, because that simply isn’t how the world works. We do, however, make accommodations when we can.

Julian has been an adventure to raise. The road has been a bit bumpy but I will stay with him forever.

Therapy pic

Yay! He finished therapy (2015)

If you are the parent/caregiver of a special needs child, how has the path been for you? Please share in the comments.