Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Disorders

Pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders are complex issues that can significantly impact a child's growth, development, and overall well-being. These disorders encompass a range of challenges related to eating, drinking, and the passage of food through the mouth and throat. It's essential to understand what pediatric feeding disorders are, their causes, symptoms, and the benefits of speech therapy in addressing these issues to best support your child’s development.

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young girl sitting at a table and struggling with a pediatric feeding disorder
Baby sitting in highchair refusing to eat while suffering from a pediatric swallowing disorder

What are Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Disorders?

Pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders, also known as pediatric dysphagia, encompass a range of challenges and difficulties that children may experience when it comes to eating, drinking, and managing food safely. These disorders can affect infants, toddlers, and older children, often stemming from various underlying medical, developmental, or neurological conditions. Early diagnosis and intervention are essential to address these disorders effectively and ensure that children can enjoy safe and nourishing mealtimes, promoting their overall health and well-being.

Causes of Feeding Disorders

Understanding the causes of pediatric feeding disorders is crucial for effective intervention and treatment. There is no single cause, and these disorders can arise from a combination of factors, which may include:

  1. Sensory Sensitivities: Some children may have heightened sensitivities to textures, temperatures, or tastes of certain foods. This can make them resistant to trying new foods or accepting unfamiliar textures.
  2. Oral-Motor Difficulties: Problems with the coordination and strength of the muscles used in chewing and swallowing can lead to feeding difficulties. This may be related to conditions like cerebral palsy or developmental delays.
  3. Gastrointestinal Issues: Conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or allergies can cause discomfort during feeding, leading to aversion or refusal to eat.
  4. Psychological Factors: Anxiety, trauma, or negative experiences related to eating can contribute to pediatric feeding disorders. Children may associate eating with pain, discomfort, or stress.
  5. Developmental Delays: Children with delays in speech and language development or cognitive delays may struggle with the complex motor skills required for eating.

Pediatric Feeding Disorder Symptoms

The symptoms of pediatric feeding disorders can vary widely from one child to another. Some common signs and symptoms include:

  • Selective Eating: Children may exhibit extreme food selectivity, refusing to eat entire food groups or specific textures.
  • Slow Eating: Prolonged meal times due to difficulty chewing and swallowing food.
  • Oral Sensory Issues: Discomfort or aversion to certain textures, temperatures, or tastes of food.
  • Weight and Growth Issues: Children with feeding disorders may have poor weight gain and growth due to inadequate calorie intake.
  • Gagging or Choking: Frequent gagging, choking, or coughing during meals.

Food Refusal: Consistent refusal to try new foods or eat familiar foods, leading to a limited diet.

How are Feeding and Swallowing Disorders Diagnosed?

The processes of diagnosing feeding and swallowing disorders include medical evaluations to rule out underlying medical causes, assessments of oral motor skills, swallowing function, and communication abilities, as well as evaluations of fine motor skills and nutritional intake. In some cases, psychological assessments may also be conducted to address emotional and behavioral factors. This multidisciplinary approach ensures a thorough understanding of the child’s condition, leading to a tailored and effective treatment plan.

child and speech therapist using a special tool during speech therapy for pediatric feeding disorders

How Does Speech Therapy Benefit Feeding Disorders?

Speech therapy plays a vital role in the evaluation and treatment of pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. Speech-language pathologists (SLPs) have specialized training in assessing and addressing issues related to the mouth, throat, and communication. 

Pediatric speech therapy can benefit children with feeding disorders in many ways, including:

  • Oral Motor Training: SLPs work with children to improve their oral motor skills, including tongue movement, lip closure, and chewing coordination.
  • Swallowing Therapy: SLPs teach children safe swallowing techniques to reduce the risk of choking or aspiration during meals.
  • Texture and Sensory Integration: SLPs help children gradually desensitize their oral sensitivities to different textures and tastes of food.
  • Communication and Behavior Support: SLPs address communication challenges related to mealtime and help children express their preferences and discomfort more effectively.
  • Feeding Strategies: SLPs provide families with practical strategies for managing feeding difficulties at home and in various settings.


Childhood Feeding Disorder Treatment with Circle of Care

If your child is struggling with a feeding or swallowing disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Speech therapy, as a crucial component of the Circle of Care approach, can make a significant difference in your child’s life. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and get started.