Feeding and Swallowing
What is A Speech-Language Pathologist’s Role in Feeding and Swallowing?
You may be surprised, but speech-language pathologists don’t just work with speech and language. We also treat feeding and swallowing disorders! That is because many of the same muscles and structures that are used for producing speech and language are also used for swallowing. For example, the vocal cords (i.e., voice box) not only produce the vibrations necessary to create sound while speaking, but they also serve as a protective barrier and “failsafe” to ensure that food or liquid does not go “down the wrong pipe” or into the airway while swallowing. The lips, tongue, and cheek muscles are also crucial for initiating the precise articulatory movements needed for speech sound production. At the same time, they function as the means of breaking down and preparing food in order to provide its safe passage to the back of the mouth, down the throat, and into the stomach. A speech-language pathologist plays a crucial role in diagnosing and treating problems with these multi-faceted muscles and structures in order to maximize your child’s ability to participate safely and enjoyably during mealtimes.
What Are Feeding and Swallowing Disorders?
Feeding disorders are problems with any aspect of eating including food refusal or avoidance, limited food intake, and/or impaired self-feeding skills. Swallowing is one aspect of feeding, which involves the physical preparation and transport of food from the mouth to the stomach. Swallowing disorders are problems with any of the specific stages of swallowing, including the oral preparatory/transit phase (preparing the food in the mouth and propelling it to the back of the throat), pharyngeal phase (voluntarily squeezing the food down the throat), and esophageal phase (the involuntary movements of the esophagus which bring the food down into the stomach). Feeding and swallowing disorders can be caused by developmental, genetic, neuromuscular, structural, behavioral, and social-emotional factors. Assessment of feeding and swallowing concerns is crucial in order to reduce the risk of choking and ensure that your child is able to receive needed nutrition safely and effectively.
Signs and Symptoms
Below is a list of common signs and symptoms to look for, which may indicate a feeding or swallowing disorder. If your child exhibits one or more of these symptoms, a speech-language pathologist will be able to guide you in terms of next steps for assessment:
Slow feeding time (more than 30-40 minutes)
Stressful/difficult behavior during mealtimes
Difficulty eating certain textures
Coughing, gagging, or choking during mealtimes
Poor or slow weight gain
Gurgly vocal quality or wet breathing quality during or after meals
Recurrent respiratory problems (e.g., pneumonia)
If you would like further information or have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to CSRC. We are here to help in any way we can!!