Learning to eat skillfully and comfortably is rooted in the development of sensory and movement skills that make it possible for an infant or child to suck, swallow, bite, and chew. Feeding skills and abilities include the social, communication, and interactive skills that integrate with mealtime skills.
Who Can Help Assess And Treat
Helping an infant or child to learn to eat and drink is based on the careful integration of skills taught by multiple disciplines. The three most common pediatric feeding skill and ability specialists are speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.
They understand how different parts of the body work, and they help children develop feeding skills to the best of their abilities. Each specialist has expertise in one area; many have participated in advanced courses and training programs that provide them with an understanding of how to combine observations and treatment ideas in collaboration with other professionals. The vast majority of these providers have master’s degrees, and many hold doctoral degrees and have postgraduate training.
Speech Language Pathologists — Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) work with children who have problems speaking, understanding and producing language, and swallowing. SLPs also address cognitive impairments that may be a root cause of such challenges. A SLP helps a child learn to eat and swallow safely while also supporting sound communication practices at mealtimes. A SLP can become a feeding specialist by completing advanced training after completing their professional education.
Occupational Therapists — Occupational therapists (OTs) work to maximize function in the “occupations” that are important to each individual. Occupations include any activity that is needed to participate in everyday life, such as eating. An OT supports functional feeding, eating and swallowing by helping a child learn to eat and swallow safely, learn to engage with and self-feed food, participate in mealtime routines and enjoy change inherent in eating. An OT can becomes a feeding specialist by completing advanced training after completing their professional education.
Physical Therapists — Physical Therapists — Physical therapists (PTs) are movement experts. PTs aim to restore and improve mobility in order for children to explore their environment and participate in functional activities. Feeding, eating and swallowing is a movement based activity. A physical therapist may help your child build mobility, strength and endurance needed for successful eating.
What They Do
- Collaborate or assist with swallow studies because of their specialized training in assessing a child’s ability to swallow safely and efficiently
- Improve skilled movement of the mouth that leads to safe and efficient eating and drinking
- Help develop overall movement coordination skills that support feeding development and develop better control of his or her body as a whole
- Provide strategies for improving coordination and overall muscle tone with a child’s oral/facial muscles and improving articulation
- Focus on fine motor skills to develop coordination of more precise movements between the eyes, shoulders, arms, and hands
- Strengthen head and trunk control to provide the foundation for specific movements of the mouth, chest, and abdomen used for breathing, eating, and swallowing
- Offer a great deal of guidance that helps parents create satisfying individual and family mealtimes for their children
- Determine if oral-motor and/or oral-sensory problems are contributing to a child’s feeding struggle
- Propose strategies for improving sensory processing that incorporate all of a child’s senses in an organized way during eating
- Help children increase their comfort level when eating a wide variety of different food textures
Find a specialist by visiting Feeding Matters’ Provider Directory or:
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)
American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)