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Swallowing Disorders vs. Feeding Disorders in Children

Swallowing Disorder and Dysphagia are terms that are used often to specifically describe difficulty eating as a result of physiological or anatomical baby eatingissues. These issues result in the inefficiency or inability of a child to safely ingest an age-appropriate diet that meets all nutritional needs. For example, an infant who is unable to coordinate the actions of sucking, swallowing and breathing to nurse may aspirate during meals (when liquid or food enters the windpipe, and may eventually reach the lungs). This could be due to physiological dis-coordination and anatomical weakness. We all have experienced a “Dysphagia moment” before due to this type of dis-coordination which results in “down the wrong pipe” discomfort and, usually, a coughing fit. However, this example is just that- one example of the multitude of ways a child’s swallowing pattern may be negatively altered and result in Dysphagia. It is not always obvious (i.e., silent aspiration will not result in a coughing fit) and has many causes and signs.

What Is A Feeding Disorder?

A feeding disorder is a more broad term that is used to describe the difficulty a child may have accepting a varied and age-appropriate diet. A feeding disorder may best describe a child who shows strict texture and food preferences. A feeding disorder may also describe a child who shows signs of aversion to being fed or feeding themselves. Feeding disorders in children can sometimes develop due to a child’s history of Dysphagia and the uncomfortable eating situations they have experienced. This history will likely impacted their flexibility and acceptance in trying new foods.

How To Identify Swallowing And Feeding Disorders?

A very broad and simplified way to differentiate between these types of feeding difficulties is to consider where the breakdown lies. A child who experiences difficulty getting food from a plate to their mouth for manipulation exhibits a feeding disorder, whereas a child who experiences difficulty getting food safely from their mouth into their digestive system exhibits Dysphagia.

Feeding and swallowing difficulties must be identified and treated as soon as possible for the greatest success of a child. If you have any concerns with your child’s abilities or behavior during meal times, seek out the advice of your pediatrician. An evaluation with a Speech-Language Pathologist, Nutritionist or Occupational Therapist may be warranted to ensure the development of age-appropriate feeding skills and the acceptance of a varied diet.

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