Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Eating is supposed to be a joyful, fulfilling experience. Many families and cultures have traditions that center around food. Food is also the centerpiece of many holidays and gatherings among friends and family. Imagine if your child was unable to experience the joy that most of us feel when we are able to savor that last bite of a deliciously tender steak or a sweet bite of a decadent chocolate cake.
Imagine if your almost one-year-old couldn’t swallow the pureed baby food you’d lovingly prepared. Or maybe your toddler melts down at the touch of any food perceived to be slippery or crunchy. Maybe your school-aged child struggles to eat his/her lunch in the allotted time at school or can’t handle the sounds in the cafeteria and comes home hungry everyday, unable to enjoy his/her lunch while socializing with their friends. Doctors and friends tell you, “she will eat when she’s hungry,” but deep down you know that really, your young child would unintentionally starve herself if given the opportunity to “eat when she was hungry” because her body doesn’t know how to identify its own hunger signals.
Our daughter, Charlotte, was one of these kiddos. She managed to breastfeed when she was a baby, she managed to swallow homemade baby food purees when she was less than a year old, and she seemed to enjoy any flavor of food we would puree for her. But she still seemed to lag behind her peers in feeding skills. She never experienced the baby food stage where we couldn’t feed her enough. When we tried to transition her to bite-sized table food, she couldn’t seem to successfully chew up the bites. She would mash food in her mouth and swallow the smaller bits and spit out the larger pieces. Gradually, she started to lose weight, falling off the growth chart, and was diagnosed as “failure to thrive” despite meeting all of her cognitive milestones.
Eventually, we were referred to a feeding clinic where at age two and a half, we were told Charlotte’s chewing skills were that of an 8 ½ month old. We found out the reason she was losing weight was that she couldn’t chew efficiently and therefore could not consume the amount of food necessary to help her grow and gain weight at an appropriate rate. By this time, she had started to lose foods due to both sensory aversions and was beginning to make judgments on food just by looking at them, judging them as too difficult to attempt to chew. When we began the SOS (Sensory Oral Sequential) approach to feeding therapy, Charlotte had only twelve foods in her repertoire that she could eat consistently. She now has well over one hundred.
During Charlotte’s time in feeding therapy, we met many children whose stories were much more complex than Charlotte’s. Some children had sustained birth trauma or were born with genetic disorders, Apraxia, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and other physical challenges that had required them to be on feeding tubes and were in therapy to learn how to eat since they’d never had to before. One of the first things we learned in therapy was that proper posture when eating is an essential part of mealtime for all children--all people, really. However, this type of seating is less available than the normal highchairs and booster seats that most children use, and can be cost prohibitive at around $250 a chair. After a little more than a year in feeding therapy, we knew we wanted to use Charlotte’s success story and what we had learned to give back to other families who were just beginning their own feeding journeys.
Two years ago we founded Charlotte’s Day to help other kids in feeding therapy who needed this expensive, but essential type of seating to help them on their path toward finally being able to successfully engage in enjoyable mealtime experiences with their families. At Charlotte’s Day, we are devoted to providing chairs to children and their families that encourage postural stability in order to reduce fatigue and to create a more stable platform for eating during mealtime. We provide high chairs, at no cost, to families who have children currently working with a feeding therapist. The high chairs we provide are based on the recommendations of feeding therapists and while we are always looking for additional products to provide, currently we provide two chairs: the Stokke Tripp Trapp and the Keekaroo Height Right high chair.
Eating is an essential skill for everyone. Not only is it a way to nourish our bodies, but it is also a way in which we can experience the world around us. These chairs help support children from the time they’re babies into adulthood (if they choose to continue using them.) They’ve helped children with extreme developmental needs, children with oral motor issues, and children with no feeding issues at all, but who simply struggle to sit still at mealtime. A child will sit down at the table for a meal or snack nearly 1,800 times a year. These chairs help ensure children don’t just sit down at mealtime, but are able to engage more successfully with the food presented to them.
We are a small organization who has given away 120 of these chairs over the past two years. We would love to be able to help more children, all across the country. Please help us continue to help children of all ages who are learning to do something that comes naturally to most of us--eating--and help them take one step (or one seat in this case) toward enjoying mealtime with their families.