Getting Familiar With Speech Disorders: Pediatric Dysphagia

Getting Familiar With Speech Disorders: Pediatric Dysphagia | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Northern VA

Last time we took a look at symptoms, causes, and potential speech therapy treatments for adult dysphagia.

Today we are going to have a look at dysphagia in children.

Dysphagia can be serious, as being unable to swallow food can lead to malnutrition.

As a result, you may need to seek swallowing disorder treatment for children.

Let’s take a closer look at pediatric dysphagia, and what speech therapy can do to help.

What Is Pediatric Dysphagia?

Pediatric dysphagia involves issues with swallowing or feeding in infants, children, and individuals up to 21 years of age.

Swallowing is the process where food and drink moves from your mouth to your stomach.

Disorders involving swallowing can occur during any of the phases of swallowing and can lead to food or liquid ending up in the windpipe.

Feeding involves the process of gathering and preparing foods, as well as chewing and swallowing.

What Are The Symptoms Of Pediatric Dysphagia?

Some symptoms to watch for which could indicate pediatric dysphagia include:

  • Vomiting
  • Arching the back
  • Eating small amounts of food
  • Pocketing food
  • Breathing issues while eating
  • Refusing foods of particular textures
  • Choking and coughing when swallowing
  • Taking over 30 minutes to finish a meal or snack
  • Crying when it’s time to eat
  • Trouble chewing age appropriate foods
  • Noisy or wet vocalizations when eating
  • Food or liquid escaping from the mouth when eating
  • Gagging
  • Drooling
  • Congestion, especially after meals

Symptoms specifically associated with feeding disorders include avoiding or restricting food intake, disruptive behavior at mealtime, and failure to develop age-appropriate skills related to eating.

Swallowing disorders can lead to food aversion, dehydration, malnutrition, and psychosocial effects.

What Causes Pediatric Dysphagia?

If you’re looking for what causes adult dysphagia, it tends to be related to events like a traumatic injury or as a result of treatments such as chemotherapy.

People often seek out treatment for dysphagia as part of speech therapy for stroke recovery, for example.

On the other hand, pediatric dysphagia is often, but not always, due to causes which are present at birth.

Some of the causes of pediatric dysphagia include:

  • Developmental disabilities, such as autism and speech impediment issues
  • Cleft lip and palate speech issues and other structural abnormalities
  • Sensory issues due to limited food availability
  • Muscle tone issues (too stiff or too relaxed)
  • Low birth weight
  • Genetic syndromes, for example Down syndrome or Rett syndrome

feeding strategies for pediatric dysphagia | District Speech & Language Therapy | Washington D.C. & Northern VA

How Can Speech Therapy Help With Pediatric Dysphagia?

If your child is experiencing pediatric dysphagia, a speech therapist can help provide solutions to help them eat and drink.

The main goal of intervention is to ensure children are getting adequate nutrition, and determine the best ways for this to happen while minimize the risk of complications.

Let’s have a look at some of the methods they may use for this.

1. Feeding Strategies

The two feeding strategies are cue-based feeding, and pacing.

Cue-based feeding looks for cues such as sucking or pushing food away to indicate interest or disinterest in feeding.

The goal of cue-based feeding, which is generally used with infants, is to ensure an enjoyable feeding experience, so that feeding won’t be avoided in the future, rather than having a goal to eat or drink a certain set amount.

Pacing is moderating the rate of feeding by controlling the time between bites.

It may also involve alternating bites of food with sups of liquid.

2. Oral-Motor Treatments

Oral-motor treatment involves stimulation of lips, tongue, jaw, soft palate, pharynx, larynx, and muscles of the respiratory system.

They can be passive, such as using vibration or stroking, or active such as range of motion or chewing exercises.

The goal is to help shape the mechanism of chewing and swallowing food.

3. Diet & Feeding Modifications

Modifications to diet involve changing the properties of food to make them easier to swallow.

This includes adjustments to texture, temperature, taste, portion size, or viscosity.

Thickening liquids, or softening solid foods are some ways to make swallowing easier.

Making modifications to diet can also take into account individual preferences, where appropriate and feasible.

4. Behavioral Interventions

Changing behavior as it relates to feeding and swallowing includes emphasizing appropriate actions and deemphasizing behaviors which don’t promote appropriate action.

Techniques used in behavioral interventions include:

  • Behavior modeling
  • Shaping
  • Prompting
  • Presenting cues to evoke desired behavior
  • Stimulus fading
  • Reinforcing alternate behavior

5. Other Possible Strategies

Other strategies which may be used to help provide treatment for pediatric dysphagia include:

  • Techniques related to posture and positioning during feeding
  • Use of adaptive utensils and other equipment
  • Maneuvers related to swallowing
  • Sensory stimulation
  • Biofeedback
  • Tube feeding

Book Your Appointment With District Speech Today

Does your child have a condition which makes swallowing difficult?

Do you struggle to get your infant to drink enough, and need help determining why this is the case?

We’re District Speech, and we can help.

As speech therapists in DC, we can help with interventions to address dysphagia and work with you to improve your child’s eating behaviors.

Contact us today for more information or to set up an appointment.

District Speech and Language Therapy
1300 I St NW, Suite 400 E,
Washington, DC 20005


District Speech and Language Therapy specializes in speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy solutions, for both children and adults, in the Washington D.C and the Arlington Virginia areas.