Sonny has a tendency to shove food in his mouth until I’m afraid it’s going to start coming out his nostrils. Between that and his tendency to eat with his hands instead of his fork, and his newfound hobby of feeding the dog from the table, Sonny has to be closely watched during mealtimes.
It’s amazing to me how many traits Sonny exhibits that I don’t even consider chalking up to his genetic disorder. Sure, sure, he’s got a broken chromosome, and a lack of the mGlur protein or whatever it’s called, but that’s why Sonny has a hard time reading and adding and doing physical activities. It has nothing to do with eating.
Newsflash! Eating is a physical activity!
This seems mighty obvious in retrospect, but I needed the latest issue of the National Fragile X Foundation Quarterly — or NFXFQ! — to point it out to me. Therein is an article by Shoshana Grunberger on nutrition and sensory issues, which itself refers back to an article back in 2005. (Was I not reading this back in 2005? I guess I wasn’t. Bad X-Dad!)
Anyway, here’s the big takeaway:
…Mouth stuffing is often a result of low muscle tone and poor oral sensory awareness. Low muscle tone results in the poor control of the tongue. This makes smaller pieces of food more difficult to control, which can make the child uncomfortable. The child will compensate by stuffing his mouth with food until the food is easier to move around. In addition, the diminished sensory awareness of many children with FXS results in a desire to fill their mouths with food, until they “feel” its presence. That actually makes eating easier.
I don’t fully get how stuffing your face so completely that it is no longer possible to close your mouth makes eating easier. Sonny certainly doesn’t look like he’s having an easy time of it, and sometimes we have to make him spit out some partly chewed food, which always helps make dinnertime a SPECIAL FAMILY EXPERIENCE.
On the other hand, at least he’s eating. Sonny is, in fact, an amazing eater. He’ll plow through whatever is on his plate so that he can get to dessert, which in his case is inevitably as many cheese sticks as he can get away with. (Yesterday he learned that rather than try to grab seven at once, he can simply go back to the fridge for repeated cheese-stick refills, and his parents are less likely to notice. I’m not sure how many cheese sticks he consumed yesterday before I realized that he seemed to always have a cheese stick in his hand.)
But what’s extra fascinating to me is that we had figured the mouth-stuffing was nothing more than the bad habit of an eight-year-old boy, and it turns out to be genetically predestined. Scott Adams, the Dilbert cartoonist, has a wonderful and philosophical blog where he often argues against humans having free will — he calls us nothing more than “moist robots,” controlled by the chemicals that squirt out from our various glands. Sonny’s actions at the dinner table would seem to be a strong argument in his favor. Sonny doesn’t mean to stuff his face; it’s just something he automatically does to feel more comfortable — just like thousands of other Fragile X kids whose brains are telling them to do the exact same thing.
But even Adams, with his “we’re nothing but robots” point of view, knows we have the capacity to change and improve ourselves. (He would simply argue that it’s the chemicals in our glands that make us want to change.) So Sonny is not destined to spend the rest of his life shoving the entire contents of his dinner plate into his mouth like one of those competitive hot-dog eaters. With guidance and a little help from his developing brain, we can teach him the right way to act at the dinner table. That is, if I can tear myself away from the magazines I keep by my place at the table, because I simply must read while I eat, because that is what I am GENETICALLY PREDISPOSED TO DO.