Food, Glorious Food!
Updated: Sep 3, 2018
Speech Pathologists are experts in the assessment and management of communication and eating difficulties across the lifespan. Think of us as the head and neck specialists! Eating and drinking is essential to human survival. For most of us it is also one of the most enjoyable activities of the day.
What happens when feeding, eating and drinking are difficult or your child is refusing to feed? This is a terrifying situation for parents but there is help available.
Lots of children present with “fussy feeding” from time to time but when issues with feeding are interfering with your child’s development of drinking and eating skills, health and enjoyment of eating it may be time to seek help. Speech Pathologists have been working for many years in this area and are the key specialists with skills in assessing all phases of the swallow, issues that impact safety in swallowing, sensory feeding issues, feeding behaviours, feeding self-help skills and feeding interactions. They can also develop a tailored feeding plan to assist you with teaching and assisting your child with the development of the skills they need to eat and drink safely.
Children that are struggling with their feeding often show symptoms and behaviours. Common symptoms that children experience include:
Dehydration, poor weight gain, weight loss, failure to thrive
Refusal of food or liquids – pulling away from the breast, bottle or spoon
Crying and struggling when feeding
Choking, coughing or gagging on fluids or solid foods
Frequent chest infections or chest problems
“Gurgly” vocal quality during or after feeds
Food coming out of the nose
Related Symptoms – crying, irritability, drowsiness, fatigue, sleeping difficulties, behavioural problems
There are common reasons why feeding problems may develop. Some of the reasons include:
Medical conditions e.g. birth trauma, respiratory difficulties
Neurological conditions e.g. cerebral palsy, cranial nerve impairment
Gastroenterological conditions e.g fistula, stricture, reflux and allergies
Oral structural problems e.g. cleft lip/palate, tongue tie
‘Failure to Thrive’ and poor weight gain
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mother/Infant interaction difficulties
Why should you seek help for problemed feeding, eating or swallowing difficulties?
It is important to look at the underlying causes of the feeding issues and manage the impact they may have on current and future eating and nutrition. Issues with oro-motor skills and swallowing need to be addressed to assist with providing safety in eating and helping children with progressing as far through the developmental diet as possible.
There are a lot of myths about eating. Children don’t grow out of these problems – what they eat at 4 is what they will be eating at 40! Parents and children need support to help them overcome feeding and eating difficulties. Without treatment there can be a significant effect on family relationships.
Eating is not just about nutrition, it is also about coming together as a family or social group and sharing, taking time out of our day and enjoying each other’s company. When feeding and eating is not going well, the family may be too stressed to enjoy mealtimes and going out for dinner may not be an option anymore.
As with any problem in infancy and childhood early assessment and timely intervention is most successful.
After a thorough assessment therapy can be provided to your child and family. Feeding therapy involves fun exploration of food in play. Getting messy and enjoying lots of sensations is all part of the learning process! Support will also be provided to you through coordination of and referral to other children’s services, liaison and family counselling and support if required.
Helping children and families find a safe and enjoyable way of feeding is my passion. I have devoted the last 15 years of my career in speech pathology to specialising in this area and love to help when feeding is difficult. If you would like any further information about feeding, how to help your child with feeding and eating issues your local speech pathologist is the one to call!
- Kim Berman-Hardman (Speech Pathologist at Talk Time Speech and Language Pathology)