Alyssa Kane, speech language and pathologist in Jersey City
Author’s Note: Except for Alyssa Kane, all names have been changed to protect the privacy of the families and children under Kane’s care.
After multiple choking incidents, Emily Carter realized that her 2 ½ year old son Jayson was not chewing his food. He had a difficult relationship with eating, and even at 2 ½, he hadn’t transitioned properly to solid foods – a transition that generally takes place around 1.
“We felt scared and overwhelmed,” Emily remembers, “and out of our depth. Jayson was diagnosed with ‘failure to thrive,’ was in the 4th percentile on growth charts, and was extremely fearful of food.”
Upon a friend’s suggestion, Emily met with Feeding Specialist and Speech Language Pathologist, Alyssa Kane. (Note: While Speech Language Pathology is a broad field with many different areas of focus, Alyssa primarily works with children who have feeding and/or swallowing disorders.)
“Alyssa is a wonderful human being—warm and welcoming—and terrific with children. Jayson took to her immediately.” And so, for the next year and a half, Alyssa worked with the Jayson and Carters.
“Alyssa engaged Jayson in exercises and games to teach and encourage him to chew. Later, Alyssa helped us introduce new and more complex foods, increasing the number and types of foods he would eat. He only ate pasta and baby cereal at age 2.5, so it was an incredible accomplishment on her (and his!) part to move to a wider variety of foods. Alyssa also connected us with a nutritionist who helped us create meal plans and ideas that dovetailed with what we were working on with her. For us, Alyssa was a miracle worker and it’s not too far from the truth to describe her as life saver,” said Emily.
When asked, Alyssa does not refer to herself as a miracle worker, but she is passionate about her work. “My love for this kind of stemmed, and I’m happy that I took on this end of speech language pathology. I feel very fortunate to have chosen a profession that I love so much.
“Moms feel anxious, overwhelmed, and lost when their children aren’t eating correctly. 95% of the parents I work with probably feel that way. They’re nervous about their kids’ nutrition and hydration and they’re spending all day trying to feed their kids. Their doctors tell them to keep going, or they get advice from parents or friends that ultimately isn’t useful. ‘Eating is instinctual,’ they’ll hear, or ‘Don’t worry. He’ll figure it out.’ And I think some parents don’t understand that they’re not the reason that their child is struggling. They think it’s their fault. Simply, it’s not true,” she explains.
Anita Klein, another mother whose child has worked on feeding with Alyssa, whole-heartily agrees. “Our son Miles underwent cardiac repair surgery at just three weeks old. He was not feeding well. We wanted to get him to eat and thrive,” she said, “but it wasn’t coming together.
“Before I met Alyssa, I had no idea that babies as young as weeks old could have feeding issues, or that there was help. I thought it was instinctual too, and was blown away that it wasn’t.
“It isn’t a bad thing to have trained eyes on your child. There is a difference between a picky eater and a child who needs assistance, and there is nothing wrong with you or your child if you need help. You’re not alone. Working with Alyssa has given us tools to help Miles try out new textures and foods, and make eating fun instead of a chore.”
Which, to Alyssa, is the goal. “Raising children is hard,” she says, “I want to help parents feel like mealtimes are enjoyable and pleasurable for their family.”
Alyssa primarily works with kids from the age of 0-3, but these kinds of issues can arise throughout adolescence. “There are lots of reasons kids can have feeding disorders,” she says, “There are sometimes medical issues like premature birth, gastrointestinal concerns or underlying cardiac conditions. Other feeding disorders could be a result of sensory or developmental disabilities. Or you may have a very typically developing child who is just having a hard time with chewing or transitioning to solids.
“And their feeding concerns vary too. Let’s say you have a 24-week preemie. Typically in the NICU, they’ll try to bottle-feed, but these children aren’t able to coordinate sucking and breathing on their own, so we’ll try a technique called pacing which involves taking a lot of breaks. Other children have cardiac conditions and they fatigue quickly. Maybe they’re at high risk for aspiration (food going into the lungs), or reflux or in some cases, they have severe issues where they’re refusing to eat.”
In addition to her job at the hospital, Alyssa sees patients in the privacy of their homes, and at their convenience. When first meeting a concerned parent, Alyssa sets up a consultation session where she completes an initial evaluation to understand the child’s medical and feeding history. (Often there’s an underlying medical issue, but not always.) Then she’ll observe the child eating (or resisting, depending). She’ll also provide recommendations and referrals, as well a full written evaluation to be sent out to whomever the family wishes.
Think your child might have a feeding disorder? Consider contacting a feeding specialist if the following apply to your child:
- Feeding refusal including arching away from bottle/breast, crying, pushing food away, parents needing to use distractions in order for child to accept food
- Prolonged mealtimes (greater than 30 minutes)
- Irritability or fatigue during feeding
- Difficulty transitioning to solid food (including purees and/or table food) at appropriate age
- Difficulty chewing
- Coughing, gagging, choking, vomiting during mealtime
- Difficulty breathing while eating
- Not growing and gaining weight appropriately
- Recurring pneumonia or respiratory infections
- Child eats only a limited repertoire of food items (beyond “picky eaters”)
To learn more, or to contact Alyssa, visit her website at http://alyssakane.wix.com/alyssa-kane