Whether it’s a child that won’t sit at the table long enough to finish a meal or a phase where the only acceptable foods are chicken nuggets and ketchup sandwiches, most parents have struggled with getting their kid to eat at some point in time. However, for some children, eating can be a much more complicated issue. There are a range of reasons a child might have feeding or swallowing issues: problems with the muscles needed for chewing and swallowing, sensory issues that make certain textures or flavors intolerable, structural problems with the digestive tract. Regardless of the cause, a speech-language pathologist can be a valuable member of the team in making sure a child with feeding or swallowing disorders gets the nutrition they need.
What are some common ways a speech-language pathologist can help a child with feeding or swallowing issues?
Diet Changes: Changing the thickness, texture, temperature or flavor of a food or liquid can be a huge help for children with difficulty eating. A speech-language pathologist can modify a child’s diet to make swallowing safer and easier. For example, this might involve thickening breast milk or formula for an infant that’s having difficulty feeding, or changing the taste or temperature of food to help a child with sensory issues or a child on the autistic spectrum to eat more at meal time.
Special Equipment: Some children need different utensils, plates, or other special equipment to make mealtime a success. A speech-language pathologist can provide insight and make suggestions on what tools might make mealtime safer for your child. This could include special bottles or nipples for infants, or for older children, plates or spoons that regulate the amount of food in each bite and make it easier to self-feed.
Positioning: Sometimes the way a child sits during mealtime can have a negative impact on feeding safety. This is especially true for children with complicated medical diagnoses, like cerebral palsy. A speech-language pathologist will assess and adjust a child’s posture during mealtimes to make sure food travels safely to the stomach and doesn’t detour into the lungs.
Behavioral Therapy: If a child has a behavior-based feeding issue (e.g., avoidance of certain foods or textures, or learned feeding behaviors that make it difficult to eat safely), a speech-language pathologist can use behavioral modification techniques to increase positive eating behaviors and decrease problematic actions.
Do you know a child with a feeding or swallowing disorder? What strategies have you used to help make mealtime safer and more pleasant? Share your story in the comments section below!
If you have any questions or would like to know more about speech-language therapy, give us a call at (212) 308-7725 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to chat and answer any questions you may have.
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