By Kristina Mulligan
When first introducing solid foods to a baby, it is expected that there will be hilarious, camera-worthy moments of spitting and silly faces, maybe a mess to clean up. When first trying purees with our son, there were tears and gagging, screaming and hyperventilating. As a new mom, I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew this wasn’t “normal.”
For many reasons, I held off on introducing foods to Flynn until after the window of time typically recommended. I chose to strongly take his adjusted age into consideration to ensure that he was ready, but his muscle control was also very weak, meaning that he was unable to sit up on his own – even assisted. If you are unsure of what adjusted age means, a baby’s adjusted age is their chronological age minus the number of weeks that he/she was premature. For example, I waited to attempt solids until Flynn was almost ten months old, but because he was born twelve weeks early, his adjusted age was about six-and-a-half months. After talking to the pediatrician, I decided to start with pureed avocado and recline the seat in Flynn’s highchair to give him the best position for his current abilities.
Well, as I mentioned, it did not go well: there was choking, gagging, and turning blue. Unfortunately, but also luckily, it was not my first time having to spring into action and he ended up just fine. Scarred from the first incident, but optimistic that it was just a difficult transition, I tried again but the result was more of the same. I remember crying to my family, “It’s just not normal and I don’t know what do.”
The timing actually worked in our favor, because later that week, Flynn had an appointment to see his neonatologist. In our case, he has an appointment to follow up with her every three months, and I was able to speak with his doctor pretty immediately after the choking incidents. This is when I first heard of Early Intervention. Her suggestion was to get Flynn evaluated by the county to see if he qualified for services through this program, specifically physical therapy. Her thought was that strengthening his core muscles would aid in the areas of feeding.
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Early Intervention is the term used to describe the services and supports that are available to babies and young children (under the age of three) with developmental delays and disabilities and their families. This may include speech therapy, physical therapy, and other types of services based on specific needs. These publicly funded programs are available in every state and territory and provide services for free or at reduced cost for any child who is eligible. Flynn’s journey with early intervention began with physical therapy, but we have since expanded to speech, occupational, feeding, and sensory processing therapies. Even though our days are always packed with activity, I am extremely grateful and feel very fortunate that our family has been given this help. Each service has helped Flynn significantly and I truly believe that starting with these sessions so young will positively impact his future.
As a parent, I wish that I had known more about Early Intervention sooner, especially being in the NICU. We heard a lot about activities that our son may not be able to do or things that he would not be capable of, but never how these things could be possible with specialists or how to get that help. I encourage everyone to be informed and ask questions, especially if they have concerns about their young children. We owe a lot of Flynn’s success to his amazing team of teachers, who have become such a huge part of our family. Every child deserves their best start, and this became possible for our family through the Early Intervention Program.