A Fork Stuck in the Road


Photo by Amy Storch

I took my younger son to his 18-month checkup this week. The appointment kicked off, as always, with a rapid-fire list of milestone questions. Can he walk up the stairs with help? Stack three or more blocks? Say between 10 and 20 words?

I was able to answer "yes" to just about every question (with just one "I don't know" response to the one about drinking from an open cup without spilling, because I've never given my 18-month-old an open cup, because are you kidding me?). I remember my older son Noah's 18-month checkup well: There were a lot of "no's."

But one question still gave me a huge jolt: Does he eat with a fork and a spoon?

Well, yes, my 18-month-old does use a fork and spoon pretty well. He has for quite some time, actually.

My 4 1/2-year-old? Still won't. STILL.

I'm sure when they asked that question at his 18-month visit, the response was something along the lines of, "Oh, I wouldn't worry about it. He'll pick it up when he's ready."

At his two-year visit, it was still: "Not a big deal, just be sure to always have one available, maybe try some different foods that are a little easier."

At three years: "Oh, he's starting school this year, I'm sure watching the other kids will fix that pretty quickly."

At four years: "Hmm. Well. Yeah. I dunno."

And now four months away from 5 years old, we have a veritable fleet of experts and occupational therapists who are all completely baffled by his steadfast refusal to eat with utensils, and I'm smacking my head into a nearby wall because OH MY GOD, this was first brought up when he was 18 MONTHS OLD.

The utensil thing, as I've explained to his OT, is kind of a perfect storm of every single one of Noah's "issues" (fine motor, crossing the midline, oral motor delays and hypersensitivity, extreme sensory/texture issues), along with a few garden-variety personality quirks, like stubbornness, perfectionism, and plain-old picky eating. He started rejecting spoon-fed foods well before his first birthday and lived on finger foods for months and months, and we were mostly advised not to press the issue. "Not a big deal," his first OT told us. "I promise he'll pick it up by kindergarten."

Ha. That's not looking like such a sure thing anymore.

Things we've tried: Every utensil style under the sun, kiddie-sized, oversized, plastic, wood, and metal, Thomas, Dora, Lightning McQueen. Training chopsticks. Ice cream. We've tried taking the "food" part out of the equation by asking him to mime using a spoon with pretend food sets, or to stir up cookie dough or instant pudding, or to feed the dog or his younger brother spoonfuls of something. He refuses. I send in pudding cups to his school so his OT can WORK SPECIFICALLY WITH HIM at snack-time, working on his grip and coordination and general tolerance of the feel of a spoon or fork in his mouth. We've begged, we've ignored, we've flat-out ordered. 

No luck. He eats with his fingers, making every mealtime incredibly long and incredibly messy. 

So I admit that we're moving on to bribery. I set up a sticker chart and told him if he 1) tries one new food every day and 2) uses a fork or spoon at every meal for a week, he'll get a very very very special present.

We're on day three. He has two stickers so far.

So, in a few days, I'm hopefully going to need you to NOT JUDGE ME when I take my child to the Apple store and buy him his very own insanely expensive iPod Touch. (He actually asked for an iPhone, I talked him down to an iPod with some preschooler apps installed.) It's still cheaper than therapy and seems to be more effective. Though I'm not sure "almost-5-year-old-with-his-own-iPod" is more or less age-inappropriate than "almost-5-year-old-who-won't-use-a-spoon," but I've decided not to think too much about that.

Read more of Amalah's column  Isn't That Special

confessions, development & growth, developmental delays, food, milestones, picky eaters, toddler meal

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cafemama cafemama

No judging here. Do whatever you need to do. I hope it works.

Steph... Stephensmom1214

Awww, Amy, I personally volunteer to punch anyone in the nose who DARES to judge how you help your child succeed.  I'm so glad this technique is working for you!


(by the way, we are doing a similar reward program with my too-stubborn to use the bathroom at school 3.5 year old, except that his reward, thankfully, is the much-less-expensive Hungry, Hungry Hippos)

nonmember avatar Hi, I'm Natalie

Aww - Despite being anti-electronic-kids-toys, I think that is a KICK ASS idea.  In no time, that kid'll be eating with utensils, texting like a maniac, and writing code circles around you online!

nonmember avatar jodifur

Have you upgraded your iphone?  I gave Michael my old iphone, and downloaded a ton of aps for it.  It can't go online or make calls and he thinks it is his own phone.  Just a thought, and hey, free!  You could wrap it and say you want to the store.  (Yes, I lie to my kid, judge me.)


Also, I remember Ezra drinking from an open cup at my house.  He poured it on his head.

alway... alwaysherebefor

Professionals don't know your child like you do so you do what you have to do to make it work for him.  Kudos to you for being creative and willing to try different things with him.  Good luck!

nonmember avatar April

Our OT suggested getting an electric tooth brush to help our little guy with his oral sensitivity. Apparently, the vibrations help to desensitize them over time. He has trouble with motor planning so utensils are difficult. We just try not to notice how much food hits the floor and praise him like crazy when he uses them. Our reward chart is for the potty and we use legos as bribery, whatever works!

nonmember avatar Cobwebs

No judging here; my six-year-old has an iPod because I got tired of him stealing mine.  Let me suggest that instead of the Apple store you try the Apple Website; they have a section of "refurbished" iPods and other i-Thingies that are significantly cheaper than the new ones.

nonmember avatar Karen

I bribe ona regular basis.  It works and it makes life easier...and you know, there are only so many punishments you can impose on a child until you feel like you should have a wort on the end of your nose.  I was wondering last night just how many cavities my son will have due to the daily tootsie pops he has earned but he goes on the potty, he is good at school, he eats well and we all still like each other.  Autism has been tantrum free since the initiation of the reward system....can't say that for punishments.  And as for the expensive present.....we bought our guy a puppy last weekend.  Nuff said.

nonmember avatar HairyFarmer

I'd be hard put to judge: I bought our two year old an iPod Touch last week!  I should add that this was entirely for the purpose of installing PECS-type apps on, directly in order to help his communication and give him more of a vocab - and he won't be using it unsupervised. They're awfully pricey paperweights if dropped!

nonmember avatar Elizabeth

No judgment here. I was going to suggest what Jodifur mentioned: get *yourself* the new, insanely expensive gift and pass yours down. Because, um, I also read what happened to your Wii nunchuck.

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