There are a wide variety of conditions that speech therapists can help with. If your child has pediatric dysphagia, it’s important to find a speech therapist to work with your child, since they are considered preferred providers of dysphagia services. Here at Voz Speech Therapy, we offer speech therapy for kids with a variety of speech and language disorders, including pediatric dysphagia. Remember, pediatric dysphagia can have long term consequences if left unaddressed. It doesn’t necessarily go away as your child grows. But, the good news is that there are many ways speech therapists can help your child to overcome their dysphagia. Keep reading to find out how. What Is Pediatric Dysphagia? Pediatric dysphagia is a condition characterized by having difficulty swallowing. There are four phasing of swallowing and dysphagia can happen in any of them. This can cause food or liquid to enter your child’s trachea, also known as their windpipe, or nose while eating. As you can guess, this is a very unpleasant experience and particularly bad instances of it can lead to your child choking on their food. If left untreated, pediatric dysphagia can lead to long term consequences like: \tAspiration pneumonia \tUndernutrition or malnutrition \tFood aversion \tDehydration \tPoor weight gain \tDelayed development \tGastrointestinal complications like constipation or diarrhea Pediatric dysphagia won’t necessarily go away as your child develops. Instead, it can cause lingering effects on your child that increase their risk of choking, malnutrition, or under nutrition even as an adult. How Do You Know If Your Child Has Pediatric Dysphagia? There are some common signs to watch out for that can indicate if your child has pediatric dysphagia. They might refuse age appropriate food or liquid, which could also slow their physical growth. You might notice that they start to act up or misbehave around mealtimes specifically and are not meeting appropriate developmental milestones for self feeding. RELATED: How To Recognize Speech Or Language Developmental Delays In Children You might also notice that their fine motor skills are not where they should be when they try to use utensils. These are all avoidance based behaviors that happen around food and indicate that there is a problem. While eating, dysphagia can happen at any phase of swallowing. Some symptoms of it in action include: \tDifficulty breathing when eating \tCoughing or choking \tBack arching \tCrying during feeding \tCongestion increases after meals \tGagging \tDifficulty swallowing \tMaking faces while eating like grimacing or flushing \tTaking a long time to finish meals \tNoisy sounding voice during meal times \tVomiting \tDelayed development of a mature swallowing or chewing pattern What Causes Dysphagia In Children? There are many possible causes for pediatric dysphagia. Sometimes it can be caused by complex medical conditions like heart disease, allergies, or pulmonary disease. It can also accompany a number of developmental disabilities, genetic syndromes, and neurological disorders like cerebral palsy. For example, sensory issues can be a primary or secondary cause of pediatric dysphagia, and is commonly associated with developmental disabilities or neurological disorders. You can also sometimes experience a temporary dysphagia caused by a medicinal side effect. It is also possible to have behavioral or social and emotional roots like stress gagging or anxiety responses around food. How Do Speech Therapists Treat Dysphagia In Kids? Speech therapists are experts at treating dysphagia in children. There are a number of different strategies they can employ to meet your child’s needs. Overall, the main goals of feeding and swallowing interventions are: \tIncreasing their quality of life \tReducing the risk of choking and pulmonary complications like pneumonia \tFacilitating safe and optimal nutrition and hydration \tCollaborating with caregivers to work with dietary preferences \tMeeting age appropriate developmental milestone eating skills Your child’s speech therapist will start with a speech therapy screening to get to the root of what’s causing your child’s issues, and from there build a treatment plan. Let’s find out more about some of the strategies your speech therapist will use to meet these goals. 1. Dietary Recommendations Dietary recommendations are one strategy your speech therapist could use to help your child with their dysphagia. They will trial different modifications to the viscosity, texture, temperature, taste, or portion size of your child’s diet and monitor their reactions. Some common examples include thickening thin liquids, or pureeing solid foods. Because mealtime is a family activity, your speech therapist will work with you to incorporate your child’s tastes, while also considering the preferences of your family. The nutritional needs of your child come first and will be met in order to avoid malnutrition. But the goal here is to see what changes can have a positive impact on your child’s dysphagia. 2. Oral-Motor Treatments Oral-motor treatments are a range of treatment options designed to improve the function of your child’s ability to swallow. To do this, your speech therapist will use different active and passive techniques to stimulate your child’s lips, jaw, tongue, larynx, and even respiratory muscles. Some examples of passive techniques are stroking or tapping particular areas. Some active activities include range of motion exercises, resistance exercises, or chewing and swallowing exercises. If your speech therapist thinks it is necessary, they can also incorporate sensory stimulation during oral-motor treatment. 3. Exploring Alternate Feeding Strategies Your speech therapist might recommend trying alternate feeding strategies. There are a few different types that they might try to see how your child responds. Pacing is when you moderate your child’s rate of eating or drinking by controlling the presentation of their sustenance. You might slow down between bites, or alternate bites with liquid depending on your speech therapist’s recommendation. Another type of alternate feeding is cue based feeding. This type is geared towards babies. Your speech therapist will teach you to learn how to identify different cues from your baby that indicate they need you to stop and take a break. Some examples of cues include sucking, passivity, pushing the nipple away, or a weak suck. Cue-based feeding prioritizes quality over quantity to improve intake and enjoy the experience of eating. Finally, responsive feeding is another type of alternate feeding your speech therapist may recommend. Responsive feeding is very similar to cue-based feeding and focusses on teaching caregivers how to understand their child’s cues for hunger and satiety. It’s all about communication, and it covers all ages that dysphagia can arise, from infants to toddlers, and even to older children. 4. Other Possible Strategies We just touched the surface on strategies available to your speech therapist to help treat pediatric dysphagia. There are many different types that focus on different causes of dysphagia. If your child has any sensory challenges impacting their dysphagia, your speech therapist might try sensory stimulation techniques. This technique can teach your child to learn sensory tolerance by starting small and slowly increasing stimulation. It can also be used if your child has a reduced response to sensory stimulation or if they have had limited opportunities for sensory experiences. Behavioral intervention is another type that can be used to address your child’s dysphagia. The focus here is on modifying your child’s behavioral patterns around mealtimes to help build routine and stability. Finally, another technique your child’s speech therapist can try is biofeedback. This involves using technology to provide visual feedback during your child’s eating and swallowing. If your child is older, they can be taught to interpret the visual information and make changes while they practice swallowing. Book Your Appointment With Voz Speech Therapy Today You can see how many different ways that a speech therapist can help your child with their dysphagia. If you notice your child is struggling during mealtime, don’t wait – book your appointment today. Research shows that early intervention speech therapy is much more effective than waiting until later. Book your appointment with Voz Speech Therapy today.