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Swallowing Disorders

What is dysphagia?

Dysphagia (dis-fay-zha) is difficulty eating/swallowing.

What can the difficulties be?

  • Difficulties using the muscles of the mouth with strength and coordination
  • Difficulties with timing, coordination, and strength of the pharynx/throat
  • Difficulties coordinating eating and breathing at the same time
  • Difficulty adjusting and using new skills as a child’s body grows and changes
  • Difficulty processing the sensory information of the mealtime setting and the food
  • Sights
  • Sounds
  • Smells
  • The position the child is in
  • The feel of anything touching the child
  • The texture, temperature, and taste of the food, the bottle, the spoon, the cup

What problems can dysphagia cause?

  • Aspiration – when some of the food or drink enters the respiratory system instead of the digestive system
  • A “taxed” immune system/higher susceptibility to illnesses as the child’s body fights to keep healthy while food isn’t going down the right way, and while the child may not be getting enough nutrition or enough sleep
  • Upper respiratory infections and ear infections
  • Difficulty with parent/child relationships when eating becomes a struggle instead of a pleasure
  • Child may restrict the amount of food he will eat, the number of foods he will eat, or may refuse food altogether as he works to protect himself.  This may become a long-term issue as the child learns that eating can be unpleasant or make him ill.
  • Child may not find eating enjoyable and miss both the normal developmental progression of eating skills and the foundations of social eating.

What priorities must be considered for treatment of a child with dysphagia?

  • Safety of eating and breathing
  • Nutrition:  calorie needs and nutrient needs
  • Enjoyment of food
  • Developmental skill progression