Not long after I began writing this blog, many moons ago during the last Ice Age and when I could still say confidently that I was closer to my 20s than I was to my (gulp) 40s, our older son L. was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. As time went on, he’d also be diagnosed with a motor planning disability, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and giftedness in selected areas (which, believe me, is more of a “diagnosis” than a bragging thing and can affect his functioning in the world as much as any of the other stuff he’s got). All of those labels for my kid’s complicated brain wiring mean a number of different things, but among them is the fact that – due to not only the sensory stuff, but also the NVLD and the gifted profile – his experience of all sensory input is not at all like most people’s.

Sometimes, it’s good – almost like a superpower. But in other ways, it’s a disadvantage, to say the least. Other parents of kids with sensory differences are probably nodding their heads vigorously right now. Because the aversions, my gosh, the aversions are just. So. Damned. Hard.

Many of you will recall that L., who is arguably one of the most food-adventurous 8 year olds on the planet, has always battled with us vigorously over eating fruit, of all things. I mean, FRUIT. Sushi, no problem. Beets, fine. Miso, curry, satay, Buffalo wing sauce? All in the realm of accepted flavors. Strawberries? Cue hysterical gagging.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen dozens of lunch pictures, and you’ve possibly even noticed some slight improvements to L.’s lunchboxes this year. Yes, this year, second grade, at 8 years old is the first time I’ve been able to branch out even the slightest in packing any kind of actual fruit. And he may or may not eat what I pack. But at least he won’t panic, or cry, or vomit. That, friends, is a huge milestone in and of itself. Consider the progress:


  • One specific brand of blueberry applesauce


    A lunch from 1st grade. See those few measly slices of dried date? That was his “fruit” for the day.

  • Homemade applesauce, with much grumbling
  • Some dried fruits, including fruit leathers
  • Navel oranges, sliced only in one very specific way
  • Limes (of all things), sliced in the same very specific way


  • Almost all kinds of applesauce, no grumbling
  • Some dried fruits, including fruit leathers
  • Navel oranges, no strategic slicing required

    See the one on the top? Oranges AND figs. He tried figs. Didn't like them, but tried them!

    See the one on the top? Oranges AND figs. He tried figs. Didn’t like them, but tried them!

  • Limes, also no strategic slicing required
  • Blood oranges
  • Clementines (even WHOLE!)
  • Cooked apples
  • Cooked peaches
  • Raw apple slices with cinnamon-sugar
  • Raw apple slices with peanut butter
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Jam
  • Apple butter

I wish I could tell you that what we’ve done to achieve this progress would work with every child, but I’m sure it won’t. However, here are some of the main steps we’ve taken that I think have helped, and might be encouraging to other families whose kids are battling an issue like L.’s:

  1. We respected him.
    Once we figured out what was going on, we stopped making a big deal about it or really bringing it up at all. Years of treating it as a non-issue allowed him to get over the early trauma we (inadvertently) caused by trying to force things.
  2. We waited until his brain matured.
    Yes, maturity has a lot to do with it. He’s now old enough to have reached a critical phase of brain development that helps him to more accurately perceive some sensory input and organize a response to it. He’s also reached the magical “age of reason.” He’s now more able to understand that even a food he greatly dislikes will not actually harm him by its mere proximity, and that the worst thing that can happen if he bites into something distasteful is that he spits it out and moves on with his day.
  3. We involved him.
    Once we started to see the signs of greater maturity, we made a list with him: “No-Go” and “Try It” foods. He was allowed to put three fruits immediately into the “No-Go” category, which means we are not allowed to put them on his plate or request that he try them. He then helped us brainstorm a list of fruits he might be willing to taste. We keep it tacked to the refrigerator as a reminder to all that these are the boundaries we’ve created, and we’ll honor them.
  4. We took it slowly.
    We didn’t expect that he’d eat the new foods right away, but we did ask his permission to put a tiny bite on the edge of his plate, with the reassurance that all he had to do was eat the remainder of his meal without freaking out about the interloper on the rim. He managed that pretty well, so we moved on to “trying.” “Trying” didn’t mean swallowing, but it did mean licking and nibbling. If he could lick and nibble with no real gagging, he could progress to a small bite.
  5. We used lots of words.
    Words are a strength for L., so it was easy to engage him in conversation around those small bites – not simply “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” but “It tastes like weird old feet that were left in a closet forever” (a real reaction from him, to blackberries). We’d ask questions like “What does it remind you of?” “Does it smell better, or taste better?” “On a scale of Best Thing Ever to Most Awful Thing I Think Might Kill Me, where does this rank?” Talking about it helped L. cope with the experience and actually taste things thoughtfully.
  6. We didn’t forbid sweeteners.
    Some cultures make a habit of adding small amounts of sugar to strong-tasting vegetables to help children develop a taste for them, gradually decreasing the sugar over time. I don’t necessarily recommend the practice across the board, but if jam from a spoon could act as a gateway to trying new things – which it did – I wasn’t going to be stubborn. Likewise, apple slices with cinnamon sugar, which have really opened up L.’s world. In the context of his generally healthy diet, I feel this is a trade-off I can not only live with, but embrace.
  7. We thanked him.
    It’s no small thing for L. to keep trying foods that once quite literally triggered his fight-or-flight instincts. Each time he has tried, we’ve praised him, hugged him, and high-fived him. We don’t GUSH, but we respect and honor the hard work it takes for him to step outside his comfort zone.

Is it all smooth sailing? Hardly – and I won’t pretend that it is. There are still a number of untried and no-go foods on his list, and he still can’t stand to be near melon or very ripe bananas (which he’s now able to tell us is because they smell sickly to him). I still long for the day he’ll take delight in strawberry season, which – given the fact that strawberries are #1 on the No-Go list – may honestly never happen. But the hard work has been worth it, if only for the fact that this year for the first time ever, he was able to help us pick apples in the fall without anxiety. Now that’s progress.