In kids, feeding and swallowing problems may cause issues with health, social life, education, and more. Problems with eating with cutlery, sucking, chewing, or using a cup to drink are some issues that you may encounter in a child with a feeding disorder.
Swallowing disorders or dysphagia involve difficulties with the movement of liquid or food to the stomach from the mouth, throat, or esophagus.
Often, feeding and swallowing disorders will be a symptom of another medical condition; however, they can sometimes occur with no known cause. If your child has a feeding or swallowing disorder, you can get help from a speech-language pathologist.
What are Feeding and Swallowing Disorders?
To better understand feeding and swallowing disorders, first consider how we eat. To eat, we need to get the food or drink to our mouths, which we can do using cutlery, a straw, a cup, or our hands.
Then we open our mouths and put the food inside and close our mouths to keep the food inside. Then, we chew on the food or move the drink in our mouths to swallow it.
Infants suck to drink milk when they are first born. As children grow, they begin to learn how to use a cup to drink and their hands or cutlery to eat solid foods. All children may struggle with this a little bit at first, pushing food out of their mouths, gagging on new food, or spilling drinks from their mouths.
Most of this is expected and will go away as kids get used to eating and drinking. However, if a child has a feeding or swallowing disorder, they may have trouble for longer than other kids, take more time eating, or only eat certain foods.
Speak to a health professional about taking your child to see feeding and swallowing specialist if you have noticed them starting to lose weight, having less energy than usual, speaking in a gurgly voice after eating, or refusing food or drink.
Feeding and Swallowing Disorder Testing
If you suspect that your child might have a feeding or swallowing disorder, it’s important to speak to your physician. They can examine your child for any underlying medical issues that might be causing the problems and check their development so far including their height and weight.
If your doctor agrees, they will send your child to see a speech-language pathologist who specializes in feeding and swallowing. They will observe how your child’s tongue and mouth move and observe them picking food up and chewing it, along with how they drink and swallow liquids.
They will also watch your child’s behavior while they are eating a meal and ask questions about any problems your child is having, their development, and medical history.
How Feeding and Swallowing Disorders are Treated
If your child is diagnosed with a feeding or swallowing disorder, there are several treatments that they might be suitable for. Your SLP might suggest using SimplyThick thickener to help make it easier for your child to eat and drink and get all the nutrients that they need.
Your child may also be referred to a physician for medical treatment or put on medication for issues like reflux if this is the main cause of the problems that they are having.
They can help you introduce different foods to your child’s diet and try different ways to encourage them to add new foods to their diet.
They will work with you and your child to help you find food that is easier for your child to eat, for example, by changing the temperature or the texture of the food.
You may also be given suggestions for the best position for your child to sit in while they eat, and your child might be referred to another healthcare professional who can help, such as a dentist or a psychologist.
How to Help Your Child Get the Most from Treatment
It’s never easy to parent a child who is not enjoying food or getting the right nutrition. You are a crucial part of your child’s treatment plan and there are lots of things that you can do to help them get the most from the treatment and improve their symptoms.
Ask plenty of questions so that you can get a better understanding of the problems that your child is dealing with, why they have them if known, and things that you can do on an everyday basis to lessen the impact of the problems.
Go with your child to their treatment and make sure that you have a good understanding of what the SLP is working on and why.
Follow the SLP and other health professionals’ suggestions while at home and speak to anybody else that your child spends time with such as grandparents and other relatives, teachers, and other educators to make sure that they have a good understanding of the disorder and how they can help.
It is also worth bearing in mind that feeding and swallowing disorders can also be quite upsetting for the child themselves, so being a safe source of emotional support for your child and encouraging them gently to try new things with you by their side can help them get better.
Feeding and swallowing disorders in children can be frustrating to deal with for everybody involved. If you suspect your child has these eating difficulties, the best thing that you can do is get professional help as early as possible.