Brielle was in a partial hosptialization program for the past month at Children’s Hospital in Plano. They have an inpatient psychiatric program for eating disorders at this facility. Yes, my five year old has an eating disorder, but she is finally eating and is doing so much better than she was a month ago! She has a condition called ARFID (Avoidant Resistent Food Intake Disorder). It basically means my child refussed to eat. We were dependent on pediasures, about 4 a day before she was admitted because she would not eat. They say “a child won’t starve themselves, they will eventually eat when they are hungry enough”. These people have never encountered a child with ARFID. These kids will starve themselves. My daughter was diagnosed with malnutrition when she was admitted. Most of the other kids came directly from hospital admission at hospitals elsewhere (including other states) because of their failure to eat. The kids that came from other hospitals still had nose tubes (NG tubes) in place to get their food. What is amazing is that these were not handicapped children in wheelchairs with severe mental impairments. These are seemingly normal kids who developed a phobia or fear of food. The aversion is so real and strong that they will stop eating and fail to thrive.

Brielle’s aversion to food started as a baby. She has always had GI issues. We didn’t know the severity of it until recently. But she has been seeing GI specialists since age 2. We have the GI issues under control with lots of medication. Praise Jesus my child is finally pooping every day on a toilet of her own free will! No more diapers or pull-ups!! Having a child who can’t/won’t poop is one thing, when it causes them to stop eating it becomes down right scary.

Days before her admission I broke down. Let me tell you, I am not the sobbing, break down type. I think it had been years since I last cried and felt so hopeless. I was unable to get my child to eat. I don’t mean she wasn’t eating her fruits and vegetables or that she was just picky. I mean she wouldn’t eat anything. I offered her every food under the sun, including junk foods and fast foods. What kid won’t eat chips, cookies, candy, or cake? Mine. I tried to bribe her with new toys, fun activities, even a trip to Disney World (and I meant it too). Nothing worked. Her condition got worse, even though her GI issues were under control. She associated food with pain, so she wanted nothing to do with food anymore. We needed her to relearn how to eat and actually enjoy food. Easier said than done.

Thank God for the program at Plano!

I searched high and low for a program anywhere in the country that would treat a 5 year old with ARFID. This hospital is one of the few that actually treats these young kids. We are so blessed that it was about an hour from us and not another state away. Many of the parents of kids in the program were from out of state and had to stay at the Dallas Ronald McDonald house, leaving other kids behind for a month. It was not easy doing a full month of trips to Plano every morning and again every afternoon to pick her up (that’s how partial hospitalization works). However, we are so thankful that the hospital was daily driving distance for us. I had researched ARFID programs in Houston and California (even spoke with them on the phone), but they didn’t take 5 year olds. There were lots of young kids in the Plano program, including another 5 year old.

They do a wonderful job treating ARFID patients at this facility. Our daughter is now eating 3 meals and 3 snacks a day. She also now only has 1 pediasure a day! In her month in this program she went from 40 lbs back up to 45 lbs. There is no force feeding in this program. They have a point system and the children get privileges and fun stuff to do based on their eating and behavior. Every meal, snack, and behavior goal are charted. We will continue charting at home too, as this system is working well for Brielle.

Brielle participated in intensive therapies all month long. However, the kids sometimes weren’t even aware that they were in therapy. They use play therapy, art therapy, recreational therapy, group therapy, and individual therapy every day (7 days a week). Older children stay the night, but because Brielle was so young it was felt by all involved that it would be detrimental to her treatment to be away from home at night.

We are so thankful for the team that treated her. Especially Dr. Sacco, Kim the play therapist, and Natalie the individual therapist. Brielle had a staff member assigned to her each day that would spend the entire day monitoring her progress and taking her from one activity to the next. Thank you to all the ladies who did such an amazing job with Brielle each day! They have an extensive team of physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, dietitians, therapists, and office staff on this unit. It is amazing how many people they have working there and how great they all work together. It is a first class program in terms of ability to treat eating disorders and work with the families. It is intensive and difficult for both child and parent, but so worth it all. Parents have to take weekly classes, participate in group support meetings, dietician classes, and therapy classses. It was all very well presented and even I learned quite a bit. Eating disorders are no joke. They can be deadly. They take it very seriously at this facility and for that I am so thankful.

Brielle will continue with play therapy and we will return to the unit for group sessions and help from a dietician. The support that they provide after discharge is extremely helpful.

They make it such a safe and fun environment for the kids. Brielle actually looked forward to going each day, even though she told us it was difficult. She made friends with other kids and brought home new art projects daily. She was especially excited for her last day. Not because she was done, but because she said she would get a special “goodbye group”. She came home with a booklet that the kids signed, wrote encouraging messages, and colored in the booklet for her.

I had to bring the boys with me to her discharge, as my sitter had to cancel and Justin was working. They liked getting to finally see Brielle’s “eating school”. Charlie keeps saying he wants to go to eating school too. I am thankful my boys eat just fine on their own!

If you are looking for an ARFID treatment program for your child, I highly recommend Children’s in Plano. Here is their web page about eating disorder treatment: