Swallowing And Feeding Disorders

A swallowing and feeding disorder is defined as a child’s or adult’s difficulty to swallow food or reluctance to eat particular classes of foods, textures, solids, or liquids for at least one month, which results in insufficient weight gain, weight maintenance, or normal growth.

Previously viewed as a condition that only impacted children and adolescents, swallowing and feeding disorder’s definition has expanded to include adults who have difficulty swallowing food or restrict their eating, and are afflicted by associated physiological or psychological difficulties but do not meet the criteria for inclusion in other eating disorders. 

Swallowing And Feeding Disorders

What Causes Swallowing And Feeding Disorders In Children?

Swallowing and feeding difficulties in children can be caused by muscular weakness in the face and neck, sensory abnormalities, reflux, being born prematurely, having a cleft lip or palate, and developmental impairments.

A swallowing disorder is a difficulty with any of the phases of the swallowing process, specifically the oral, pharyngeal, or esophageal stages. The oral stage encompasses the child’s capacity to suck, bite, chew, and transport foods effectively from one side of the cheek to the other for successful chewing, as well as move food into the throat to trigger the swallow. The pharyngeal stage is the time when the swallow begins and the food or drink is transported down the throat. During this procedure, the neck shuts instinctively across the windpipe to prevent food or water from entering the windpipe. By pressing the food down in a wavelike rhythm, the esophageal stage forces the food or liquid down towards the stomach. 

How Swallowing And Feeding Disorders Manifest In Children

A child with a swallowing and feeding disorder may struggle to swallow, or grasp or hold meals in their fingers. They could also have difficulties sucking, eating, or holding food or beverages in their mouth, and may have long-term aversions to particular food textures. They may also refuse entire food categories.

They may have a tendency to only accept food that meets certain criteria, e.g., not touching other foods, overcooked, etc., and may refuse to touch food using their fingers. These behaviors make it difficult for the child to receive adequate nutrition from a range of sources, which makes life difficult to the child’s caregivers.

Other warning signs of swallowing and feeding difficulty in children include: arching their backs or stiffening them when feeding, crying or fussing when feeding, falling asleep when feeding, problems with breastfeeding, trouble breathing while eating or drinking, refusing to eat or drink, taking a long time to eat, problems chewing, coughs and gags during meals, too much drooling or having liquid come out of the mouth or nose, getting stuffy during meals, spitting up or throwing up a lot, not gaining weight or growing. 

How We Can Help

We are able to assess and manage all the feeding concerns that you may have. Our assessments are usually conducted at home so that your child can feel comfortable in their own surroundings.

Through storytelling and the use of soft toys or puppets, we analyse your child’s connection with food. The anatomy and function of your child’s mouth and jaw, including soft tissues and muscle of the tongue, cheeks, and lips, are examined. To assess for tongue thrust, we examine their tone, strength, and coordination, as well as the action of their tongue during swallowing.

We also look below the tongue for any tongue-ties (oro-motor examination), which helps us determine if the child’s ability to swallow is hampered by any physical or physiological issues.

Our swallowing assessment assists us in determining the child’s capacity to swallow liquids and solids. We set up a feeding assessment picnic so that we can see how your kid interacts at the table, how they make food and drink choices, what they touch and how they touch it, what they refuse, and any food or drink rejection behaviors. We urge kids to try different meals as part of the table-based games during such assessments. This allows us to know how open the child is to sampling new tastes and sensations.

After a thorough assessment, we develop and roll out an informed feeding/swallow therapy plan. The plan entails sensory interventions and behavioral interventions. The assessment may also reveal underlying factors that may make us refer the child to a GP, pediatrician, lactation consultant, dietitian, occupational therapist, pediatric dentist, or psychologist parramatta