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Eating And Drinking

What is ‘dysphagia’?

Dysphagia is a difficulty with eating and/or drinking.
This could include a difficulty with swallowing; or with coordinating lip, tongue and jaw movements to chew and move food around the mouth.

Why does a child with feeding difficulties need to see a Speech and Language Therapist?

Speech and language therapists work with children with communication difficulties. Some speech and language therapists have also undertaken training to assess and support children with eating and drinking difficulties (dysphagia). Support offered by speech and language therapists is often given alongside other professionals, such as dietitians, paediatricians, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, health visitors and nurses.

Who could have dysphagia?

Children may have these difficulties for a veriety of reasons, including:

  • Premature babies
  • Children born with a condition such as Down’s Syndrome or cleft lip and/or palate
  • Children with a diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy
  • Children with a heart condition or a condition that affects their breathing
  • Children with gastro-oesophageal reflux
  • Complex medical conditions

Not all children with these difficulties will have dysphagia. There may also be children that do not have the difficulties on this list that experience eating and drinking difficulties.

Some children have feeding difficulties that may relate to sensory difficulties. This can happen with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or with children who have previously had reflux or a difficult start with feeding.

What might I see if my child has dysphagia?

The signs below may seem more obvious at times and may also change depending on the type of food your child is eating;

  • Coughing and/or choking during or after feeding
  • Changing colour and/or noisy breathing during or after feeding
  • Refusing foods
  • Difficulty chewing or difficulty moving onto more challenging textures
  • Gagging
  • Prolongued feeding times
  • Weight loss or lack of weight gain

How to refer:

Click here to find out how to refer a child for an assessment of their swallow.