Speech Therapy
June 19, 2023

What exactly is feeding and swallowing therapy?

Feeding and swallowing therapy is a type of treatment that is designed to help babies and toddlers who are having difficulty with feeding and swallowing.

Jen Wirt

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Feeding and swallowing therapy is a type of treatment that is designed to help those who have difficulty with any skills related to feeding and swallowing. This type of therapy can help to improve the way your child eats and drinks, focusing on problems such as choking, gagging, aspiration, and aversions, ensuring that children develop vital skills for a healthy and enjoyable mealtime experience.

Understanding Sensory and Oral Motor Challenges:

Feeding and swallowing therapy address two primary challenges commonly observed in pediatric populations. First, sensory difficulties involve how a child perceives and responds to various food textures, tastes, and temperatures. Some children may be overly sensitive, leading to food aversions, while others may crave intense sensory input. Second, oral motor challenges pertain to the physical ability to coordinate the muscles required for biting, chewing, swallowing, and proper tongue movement. For infants, this can look like difficulty coordinating their breathing and swallowing. 

The Role of Feeding and Swallowing Therapy:

Pediatric therapists play a pivotal role in guiding children through their feeding and swallowing difficulties. These therapists are typically speech-language pathologists or occupational therapists with specialized training in pediatric feeding issues. The therapy journey begins with a comprehensive assessment to understand the child's specific difficulties and their underlying causes. This evaluation includes observing mealtime behaviors, oral motor skills, sensory responses, and any potential medical issues related to feeding.

Following an assessment, your therapist will work collaboratively with the child, parents, and caregivers to tailor an individualized therapy plan. Some of the techniques that may be used during feeding and swallowing therapy include:
  • Sensory Integration: For children with sensory aversions, therapists gradually introduce new food textures and tastes. The goal is to desensitize the child to aversive stimuli and encourage exploration of different foods.
  • Oral Motor Exercises: Oral motor challenges are addressed through various exercises targeting specific muscle groups involved in chewing and swallowing. These exercises help improve coordination and strength.
  • Oral stimulation: The therapist may use gentle touch, vibration, or pressure to stimulate the child's mouth and tongue, which can help to improve their oral motor skills and make it easier for them to eat and drink.
  • Visual and sensory cues: The therapist may use visual cues, such as a toy or light, to help the child focus on their food and drink, and they may also use sensory cues, such as different textures or temperatures, to help the child learn to tolerate different types of food.
  • Mealtime Strategies: Therapists also provide valuable mealtime strategies and techniques for parents and caregivers. These may include pacing, appropriate positioning, and adaptive utensils to facilitate self-feeding.
  • Modified textures: The therapist may recommend modifying the texture of the food and liquids to make it easier and safer for the child to swallow. This may include pureeing or thickening the food and/or liquids.

It's important to note that feeding and swallowing therapy can be a slow process, and it may take several weeks or months to see significant improvement. However, with persistence and patience, many babies and toddlers are able to make significant progress and improve their feeding and swallowing skills, especially when there is family involvement.  With the dedication of skilled professionals and the support of families, children can embark on a positive journey towards healthier, safer, and more positive mealtime experiences.

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