Many children are picky eaters. This is part of normal development and is common around ages 2-3 years. In most cases, by the time the child is 6-7 years old, they naturally begin to expand their diet and eat a greater variety of foods. But sometimes this doesn’t happen, and children remain very picky and over time become even pickier, eliminating additional foods from their diet. If your child is a picky eater, SPACE-ARFID treatment can help you manage picky eating at home.
Developed at Yale University, SPACE-ARFID (Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions for Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) helps parents find out the one thing they do that gets in the way of food flexibility … and learn how to make evidence-based changes!
SPACE-ARFID is a parent-based treatment for children with extreme picky eating, or ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). In ARFID, restricted eating is not driven by fear of gaining weight or distorted body image. If this is the case, a different eating disorder should be considered such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. In many cases, ARFID can have serious medical consequences because the body is denied essential nutrients it needs to function normally. This can lead to problems like anemia, feeling tired, difficulty concentrating, irritability, constipation, abdominal pain, cold intolerance, sleep problems, electrolyte imbalances, impaired immune functioning and more. Therefore, it is important to consult with your pediatrician if you suspect your child has ARFID.
Even when a child’s weight and medical condition are not compromised, ARFID can lead to meaningful interference in daily functioning. For example, a child with ARFID may limit their social life to avoid the distress of dealing with food in public and in many families, the ARFID is a constant source of conflict between family members and can lead to avoidance of family activities, trips and vacations.
When parents face kids with picky eating or ARFID, they often feel overwhelmed and exhausted. This is because it takes tremendous effort to feed these children. The list of safe foods can dwindle by the day, shrinking your child’s (and your whole family’s) options and flexibility.
SPACE-ARFID aims to treat children and adolescents with ARFID. Although children do not have to attend treatment sessions – they are the patients! When SPACE-ARFID treatment is successful children feel less distressed and function better in food-related situations.
Usually, parents (and other caregivers) participate in SPACE-ARFID treatment sessions. In most cases, the child or adolescent does not need to attend the treatment sessions. Sometimes, it is helpful to involve the child in the treatment process.
The goal of SPACE-ARFID is to increase the child’s flexibility around food and improve their adjustment to food-related situations. Parents who participate in SPACE-ARFID will learn specific skills and tools to help their children achieve these goals and function better around food. The treatment focuses on changes that parents can make to their own behaviour; they do not need to make their children change.
The three main changes that parents learn to make in SPACE-ARFID treatment are to respond more supportively to their child, to reduce food-related stress, and to reduce the accommodations they have been making to the child’s symptoms.
SPACE-ARFID helps children recover, but parents are the ones who attend coaching sessions. You don’t need to force kids to attend SPACE sessions. Your child doesn’t need to be engaged or motivated to change their behaviour for SPACE-ARFID to work.
There are four goals in SPACE-ARFID:
Sometimes working together with a dietician may be beneficial, especially when dietary needs are diverse.
Can you recognize yourself and your family in this? Is your family constantly making adjustments to menus, cancelling social or restaurant visits because your child’s favourite food is not available, or perhaps you have had enough of having to prepare various meals just to satisfy your child’s pickiness?
SPACE-ARFID is a highly effective treatment for childhood anxiety related to Food Intake. It is safe, and it helps children learn how to cope with their fears in a healthy way. The SPACE-ARFID Program is a privately run program that is available on a fee basis. Parents who are interested in accessing support for their child start with booking an initial meeting online. An STG Health Services Professional will administer a short anxiety assessment and then rate your child’s anxiety level based on your responses. When your child seems to be a good fit for the program, you are then invited to do a full intake session.
I strongly believe that no one should be pressured to decide whether or not they want to work with a therapist before meeting them. I will see you (and your child) at no charge to make sure we are a good fit for each other. Every therapist works in their own unique way so I want you to be certain you feel comfortable with the way I work. The initial meeting is not a therapy session; it’s designed to be low-key and low-pressure with no “hard sell” at the end.