The goal of swallowing therapy is to help children develop normal, effective swallowing patterns. Therapists work closely with patients and their families to determine the cause of the child’s swallowing difficulties (or swallowing disorder) so that he or she can develop the right types of therapy for the patient. Learn more about swallowing disorders.
When should a child be referred for swallowing therapy?
For most people, it’s hard to imagine it being difficult to swallow, but swallowing is a skill and this not easy for all. A child should be referred for swallowing therapy if he or she is:
- Arching or stiffening the body during feeding.
- Irritable and lacks of alertness while feeding.
- Refusing food or liquid.
- Having difficulty breastfeeding.
- Coughing or gagging during meals.
- Excessively drooling or food or liquid is coming out of the mouth or nose while eating.
- Having difficulty coordinating breathing with eating or drinking.
- Experiencing increased nasal or throat congestion.
- Gurgly, hoarse or has a breathy voice quality during or after feeding.
- Frequently spitting up or vomiting.
- Suffering from repeated pneumonia or respiratory infections.
- Not gaining weight or growing at an acceptable rate.
What skills are taught in swallowing therapy?
The main goal of swallowing therapy is to ensure the child’s safety while eating and drinking. The skills taught in therapy include but are not limited to:
- Decreasing the risk of aspiration while eating and increasing the amount of food the child can eat at each sitting without signs of symptoms of aspiration.
- Improving the child’s ability to swallow well. Therapists work with patients to help them be better able to perform the processes involved in swallowing correctly and in the right order.
- Reducing drool and teaching the child how to move and manage the saliva in his or her mouth.
- Improving the child’s sensory awareness while eating and swallowing.
- Teaching the child to independently clear congestion and improve airway protection.
What roles do caregivers play in swallowing therapy?
Caregivers play an important role in swallowing therapy. As a vital member of the child’s care team, therapists stay in close contact with the child’s family in between appointments so that the therapy and strategies being used can be changed as needed. While the child is learning skills in order to become a better eater, caregivers must learn the skills and strategies they can use at home in order to help the child progress. The child’s caregivers and therapist are a team, working together to make sure the child receives the therapeutic, physical, social and emotional support to improve his or her swallowing skills and habits. In order to provide patients what they need at home, therapists teach the child’s caregivers:
- Feeding strategies and general advice for eating at home.
- Tactics for addressing negative mealtime behaviors.
- To keep a food log of what the child eats and how he or she acts at mealtime and reacts to foods.
How long does swallowing therapy take?
The length and frequency of therapy depends upon each child’s needs. The child’s therapy team will work with the child and his or her caregivers to make sure the child gets the right amount of therapy so that he or she can progress without feeling too overwhelmed.