Jayden’s list of “no’s” as a toddler was huge. No food. No noise. No touching. No new experiences.

For his mother, Claudia, it was terrifying. “At just a year old, he was still only taking milk,” she says. “Between the ages of 2 and 4, he was subsisting on pouches of baby food. I took my children to Mexico to visit family and ran out of baby food pouches while I was there. I drove for miles trying to find a place that sold them. I was desperate so I tried a substitute and he of course refused to eat it. That was my life.”

Claudia enrolled her son in CTC’s center-based program in Tacoma where he has received occupational and speech-language therapy for the past 5 years. “He likes it here,” says Claudia. “It feels like home to him.”

One of the first critical jobs was getting Jayden to be willing to eat and to try a new food. “He’s come such a long way, but he’s still selective,” says Claudia. “He’ll eat Cheerios, but not with milk. He catches me every single time I try to sneak a new ingredient into his food. And if the packaging of a food changes, he’ll refuse it even if he’s been eating it for years.”

His occupational therapist, Joli, is playful and understanding with Jayden as she tries to get him to try a new cheese in his lunchtime quesadilla. He accepts it but declines her offer of one with beans inside. Joli says his willingness to even consider it is a triumph. “That’s a long, long way from ‘no way.’”

Jayden has progressed to the point where he was able to join a feeding group last summer with three other children. “And his favorite TV show now is a cooking show!” his mom says. “Can you believe that?”

These days, Jayden will try almost any food offered during therapy but he has a harder time eating the exact same foods at home. “For a child who has spent years only eating specific foods in the same home environment, learning to eat new foods in that same environment can be very hard,” Joli says. “A lot of conditioning happens around eating, and changing those conditioned cues at home can be very difficult.”

In addition to feeding challenges, Jayden’s sensory issues hindered his ability to play and interact with others. “Jayden didn’t like anything wet or sticky on his hands when I first met him, and he was very fearful of moving with his feet off of the ground,” says Joli. “Jayden was also very nervous about other people bumping into or touching him. He was sensitive to loud noises, fearful of movement, and didn’t like things moving around him. Imagine how hard a preschool classroom was for such a sensory-sensitive kiddo!” Today, there’s no trace of apprehension. Jayden swings happily in his therapy room playing a game with a fishing rod and using a stethoscope to monitor the well-being of a stuffed frog.

Jayden’s communication skills have also improved greatly. He was nervous around other children, and the thought of being around them or playing with them produced a lot of anxiety for him. 

“Jayden is building the skills to speak up when he needs something,” Jayden’s speech-language pathologist, Molly, says. “For example, he was able to tell a friend and a therapist in a group setting that they were being too loud and to please be more quiet. This would not have happened when I first met Jayden!”

Jayden’s parents and two older sisters are an essential part of his therapy team. “They are amazing at encouraging and celebrating even the small successes with Jayden,” says Molly. “They are also open to implementing speech and language strategies at home, which help him to work on the skills he learns in therapy.”

Recently, Jayden ate the first (and second and third and fourth) cheeseburger of his life on their family’s trip to California. He loved it and wanted one every day. The only problem? It was from In and Out Burgers, and we don’t have any in Washington!

How does speech-language therapy help a child with developmental delays?

“If a child like Jayden doesn’t have access to speech language therapy, he is likely to have difficulty forming and maintaining relationships with peers, communicating his needs and wants in a school setting, and demonstrating his learning. Supporting him through building his communication skills helps alleviate some of his anxiety and build his confidence, which makes him safer and more successful at home, at school, and in the community.” – Molly, SLP