Mealtime Partners, Inc.

Specializing in Assistive Dining and Drinking Equipment

December 2010 Independent Eating and Drinking Newsletter

Independent Eating...   is a Wonderful Thing 

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Reducing Holiday Stress

The Holidays bring with them all sorts of changes in normal routines, additional activities, and time spent with family and friends. This is an exciting time but brings with it stress for those who are dependent upon others to take care of their needs. It is especially difficult for those children and adults, who have difficulties with communication, coping with crowds (and/or noise), and eating (either the act of eating, or eating unfamiliar foods).

Family gatherings can be a tense time, rather than fun, when family members do not understand the struggle that individuals with disabilities are going through, particularly children. There are expectations of behavior and manners that, for some, are impossible to meet. The purpose of this article is to provide some suggestions for making these situations less stressful for the person with a disability and their immediate family.

The following are some tips that might diminish the impact of stressful mealtime situations:

For the texture controlled diet – many children and adults with eating difficulties need a texture controlled diet. For a host who is unfamiliar with preparing minced or blended food, this might be a difficult requirement. They don’t necessarily have the correct equipment to prepare the appropriate textured food. Additionally, when the host is busy preparing food for a group of people, it might be difficult for them to undertake this additional requirement. If this is the situation, take food already prepared and reheat it in the microwave oven. Explain to your host that you felt that it would make it easier for them if food did not need to be specially prepared just before the meal.

For the picky eater – if your family member does not cope well with eating unfamiliar food, and if you are taking a covered dish, make sure that it is something that they really like. (You might find that other children at family gatherings are delighted to find “kid friendly” food on the table.) If you do not take a side dish then simply take a plate of food that is acceptable to your child.

A few days prior to attending the gathering, telephone your host and explain the reasons you would like to do this, and ask if it is OK for you to do so. If your host does not understand and would prefer you don’t bring food, simply feed your family member prior to attending the meal. Bring them an activity that will help them occupy their time during the meal, but that does not draw attention to them.

For the messy eater – many people with eating difficulties are messy when they eat. This creates two different types of stressors at holiday gatherings. Some people get queasy seeing someone chewing with their mouth open or having food fall out of their mouth. Also, a host might be concerned about food falling on the floor or staining a table-cloth. Discuss with your host if it would be OK to bring a vinyl table-cloth to protect the floor and an additional waterproof cloth to protect the table (disposable table top covers are available at many store like Target and Toys R Us and can cover the area immediately in front of the person at the table). If this arrangement is agreeable to your host, talk with family and friends ahead of time to make sure that they will not be uncomfortable if your family member eats with them. If your host, family or friends are uncomfortable, it might be wise for your family to arrive at the gathering after the meal is over, or, if it is agreeable to your family member, to have them eat before coming to the gathering and maybe just snack on a bite or two of food during the meal. (You might also consider purchasing a Mealtime Partners Cover-Up for making mealtime cleanup easier.)

For those with a potential for sensory overload – some people have sensory difficulties at times, and just being in an unfamiliar location can cause stress. When you add to that an increased noise level, new people, different smells, lots of conversation, people hugging you, a very stressful environment may be developing that can erupt into an uncomfortable state of affairs for everyone. The assortment of new electronic devices can be a life-saver in this situation. Using a head set with an iPod, video game, or DVD player can isolate the individual enough to allow them to maintain a level of calmness that is appropriate and acceptable to the rest of the guests. Make sure that you have a variety of activities so that if one becomes boring they can move on to another.

A non-supportive seat – make sure that your family member is seated in a manner that provides adequate support for them to be able to comfortably sit for an entire meal. It is important that their feet are supported so that they don’t get restless because their legs are dangling. Depending upon the height needs, a 12 pack of soda often can be used to make a firm footing (or take a foot stool with you to provide support). When the feet are not well supported, the individual is inclined to fidget and want to leave the table sooner than if they are sitting comfortably. .

Christmas is very close!

Mealtime Partners has many products that make wonderful gifts. 

Cover-ups protect clothing during meals while providing easy clean-up after the meal. The advantage of the Cover-Ups is that they do not require laundering after each meal.   During the busy holiday season, be sure to provide independent drinking to reduce the risk of dehydration. Dehydration can cause serious health consequences that can spoil the holiday season for everyone.
Picture of Cover-Up    Camelback Drinking System
Cover-ups have a soft vinyl outside and are lined with soft flannel and are comfortable to wear because of the softness of the materials.
  The Hydration Backpack with Drinking Tube Positioning allows for hands free drinking for those seated in a wheelchair. To learn about all of the Mealtime Partners Drinking products, click here: Drinking Products.
A good Cover-Up is essential for those family gatherings where quick/easy clean-up is important.   Drinking is not just for mealtimes!
To view our complete line  of  products, click here. 

Prioritizing Functional Abilities

Quite often, people with significant physical limits are faced with the decision of choosing which function is most important to them, when gaining ability in one area might remove or lessen the quality of ability in another.

An example of this is a family that was faced with making a decision on behalf of their five year-old daughter that would impact the rest of her life. She was born with hip dysplasia and other skeletal defects including curvature of the spine and underdeveloped knees. The various deformities affecting her lower limbs were surgically correctable and would facilitate her being able to stand and walk. However, her upper limbs were also affected, and because of her lack of hand function she had learned to skillfully use her toes and legs to fulfill the tasks that she would have normally completed with her hands. The problem was that if she had surgery to allow her to walk, she would possibly loose the fine motor function of her toes. (Most certainly, just wearing shoes would prevent her from using the skill with her legs and toes that she had developed.) Which would be more beneficial to her, to be able to ambulate or to be able to write? The family found the decision relatively easy to make. They declined the surgery and set about finding a powered wheelchair that would allow their daughter freedom to be mobile. This family decided that walking, even though it would have been very significant, was less important than being able to complete the many activities that her legs and toes allowed her to do.

For many others there is no corrective surgery available to make function possible. Yet, within each of us, there are things that we feel strongly about and other things that are “no big deal”. Recently, a young man explained to me that being able to walk was never something that was very important to him but that he knew that, for his father, it was extremely important and the primary function that he wanted his son to achieve. He, however, thought that being able to work the remote control for his TV was “essential” and something that he would hate to be unable to do.

A seven year-old girl found being able to feed herself so important, that she, at times, absolutely refused to be fed which created a worrying situation for her family.

Each person is unique in what is important to them. For some people a wheelchair is a fine solution to independent mobility while for others it is most unsatisfactory and they want to walk independently. Other people are quite content being fed by another person while others, like the girl described above, adamantly want to feed themselves. For others being able to dress independently is important and for others it is the ability to communicate their wants, needs and opinions.

The intent of this article is to draw the reader’s attention to the fact that each person who is unable to be fully independent has their own priorities for what they want to do for themselves. There are functions in which we want to encourage people to become independent. However, when faced with becoming able to complete tasks independently, sometimes the one that is most important to the individual should be the first one to work on, rather than the function that appears to be most significant to family members or medical professionals.

So, the moral of the story is: if you want to really motivate a child to try to achieve mastery of tasks, start off with tasks that they really want to be able to do.


Tip of the Month: Now that winter is here, remember that dry lips make it hard to create a seal around a straw. Using Chap Stick or some other lip balm will help keep lips from chapping which will help make a good seal around a straw for easier drinking.


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