Eating and drinking therapy is also known as dysphagia therapy. It used to support children who have difficulties chewing, swallowing and bringing food or drink to their mouth. Eating and drinking therapy is used to increase children’s ability to eat and drink in a safe manner without aspiration or choking.
Eating and drinking therapy can help children develop the skills needed to chew and swallow in a safe and effective manner, through reducing complications and improving their abilities.
Who is suitable for dysphagia therapy?
Eating and drinking therapy is suitable for any child who has difficulty with chewing, swallowing and eating foods of a range of textures and taste. Some conditions that eating and drinking therapy may be suitable for include:
How to spot a child who needs dysphagia therapy
A child who struggles with eating and drinking and would benefit from therapy may often present with the following:
- Avoidance or refusal of food or drink.
- Difficulty chewing, sucking and swallowing.
- Body stiffening or arching during feeding or meal times.
- Inability to accept foods of different textures.
- Long feeding or meal times.
- Coughing or gagging when eating and drinking.
- Excessive drooling when eating or drinking.
- Food or drink coming out the mouth and / or nose.
- Food or drink left in the mouth after swallowing.
- Food sticking in the throat.
- Regurgitating food frequently from mouth or nose.
- Less than average weight gain or growth.
- Regular respiratory infections or recurring pneumonia.
- Difficulty breathing, drinking and swallowing.
- Gurgly or breathy voice.
- Dry mouth.
What’s involved in dysphagia therapy?
Eating and drinking therapy would involve working with your child to ensure they have a safe and effective swallow without risking aspiration or complications when eating and drinking. Activities carried out during eating and drinking therapy will vary according to your child’s difficulties, needs and abilities, as well as the underlying cause of the problems.
Eating and drinking therapy may include:
- Increasing muscle strength in the mouth.
- Increasing the range of movement of the tongue.
- Improving chewing skills.
- Decreasing and eliminating rejection of different foods and drinks.
- Improving swallowing and sucking skills.
- Improving the suck-swallow-breath mechanism in small children.
- Modifying food textures and thickness of drinks to enable a safe swallow.
- Modifying posture.
As well as working with the child the speech and language therapist may choose to also work with parents and carers to educate them about their child’s difficulties, to provide strategies to help ensure a safe and effective swallow and maintain a positive experience around meal times for both the child and the parents.
Improvements made through dysphagia therapy
Dysphagia therapy can provide many benefits to your child's health and day to day life. Some of the benefits include:
- Improved eating and drinking skills.
- Promoted weight gain and opportunity to thrive.
- Safe and effective swallow, avoiding aspiration and pneumonia.
- Reduced stress and anxiety for the family and the child during meal times.
- Increased independence.
Dysphagia therapy can have a range of benefits for your child, ensuring they are able to eat and drink as safely and effectively as possible. It can also provide support for the child and family whilst reducing frustration and anxiety when eating and drinking.