Feeding Disorders in Children

What are feeding disorders?

Feeding disorders refer to difficulty gathering and manipulating food or liquid for sucking, chewing, or swallowing. Individuals with a feeding disorder may experience difficulty chewing, refusal of food or liquid, excessive drooling coming out of mouth, or less than normal weight gain. Feeding disorders can affect one’s ability to maintain adequate nutritional intake while safely consuming food or liquids.

Feeding disorders affect individuals and their families, as there are related requirements for time (e.g. exercises at home, food preparation) and resources (e.g. specific foods, appropriate feeding utensils) when attempting to increase feeding skills. Meal times can become emotionally charged events for children and their parents and the parent-child dynamic can be affected. Speech pathologists work to create goals to scaffold children toward increased feeding skills while keeping the needs of the whole family in mind.

What causes feeding disorders?

  • Prematurity, low birth weight
  • Gastrointestinal difficulties
  • Cleft lip and/or palate
  • Autism
  • Muscle weakness of face and/or neck
  • Difficulty with parent-child interactions during meal times

What are the symptoms?

  • Failure to accept different textures
  • Coughing or gagging during meal times
  • Difficulty coordinating feeding and breathing
  • Difficulty controlling food or saliva in the mouth
  • Recurrent pneumonia or respiratory infections
  • Irritability while feeding

What can be done?

Health care providers may refer individuals to a speech pathologist.  After conducting a thorough evaluation of a child's feeding skills, speech pathologists can develop a plan of care to help alleviate symptoms and improve overall feeding safety and effectiveness. They may also coordinate with other healthcare providers such as ENT’s, GI’s, nutritionists, and other specialists to ensure you the highest level of care. Therapy might emphasize:

  • Direct feeding trials designed to meet individual needs
  • Taste, temperature, and texture recommendations
  • Increasing strength and coordination of the muscles of the mouth
  • Improving chewing and sucking/drinking skills
  • Caregiver training

 

For more information:

ASHA's FAQs on Swallowing and Feeding

 

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