Feeding, the act of gathering food into the mouth, is a common problem in children and often leads to nutrition and hydration problems if not addressed. Dysphagia
can also occur in children when any part of the normal swallowing process is disrupted.Common causes for feeding and swallowing disorders include neurogenic disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, prematurity and low birth weight, cleft lip or palate, developmental disorders, heart or respiratory conditions, sensory issues, and muscle weakness or abnormalities in the head, face, or neck. Swallowing disorders may also be caused by social, emotional, and environmental issues during mealtime.
Children with feeding or swallowing disorders may experience coughing or choking before, during, or after the swallow, difficulty breathing while eating, difficulty chewing, initiating swallow, or managing oral secretions, gagging, vomiting, and prolonged feeding times. Parents and caregivers may notice back arching, skin color changes, crying during mealtimes, frequent congestion or respiratory illness, poor weight gain, and noisy or wet vocal quality during and after feeding.
The speech-language pathologist may work collaboratively with a feeding team including a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a nutritionist, and a developmental specialist. The speech-language pathologist’s primary concerns for children with feeding and swallowing disorders include safety, hydration, and nutrition. Treatment may include increasing tongue movement and the strength of oral muscles, improving sucking, drinking, and chewing ability, tolerating different foods and liquids, altering food textures and liquid thickness to ensure safe swallowing, and coordinating the suck-swallow-breath pattern for infants.