Cleveland speech therapists

Cleveland Speech Therapists on How Feeding Problems Can Become Speech Problems

When a child has issues with feeding & swallowing, these can often lead to speech & language issues – especially if untreated. The Cleveland speech therapists at Therapy & Wellness Connection treat both kids with feeding and swallowing problems as well as speech-language problems. Early intervention with feeding and swallowing disorders can lead to fewer or less severe speech issues down the road.

Let’s start with the fact that just on their own, feeding & swallowing are basic life functions that we often take for granted – but they actually require numerous steps and the coordination of numerous muscle groups. There’s getting the food to the mouth (often with a delivery device, such as a spoon, fork, cup, straw, or hands). Then there’s chewing it. Then there’s moving liquid to allow for swallowing. And then there’s actually pushing the food back to swallow.

Sometimes, kids have physical, neurological, or developmental issues that impede appropriate feeding and swallowing. Some conditions associated with feeding & swallowing disorders include:

  • Prematurity/low birth weight.
  • Cleft palate or lip.
  • Autism.
  • Sensory issues.
  • Breathing trouble, such as asthma.
  • Reflux and other gastrointestinal issues.
  • Hearing loss.
  • Intellectual disabilities.
  • Nervous system disorders, such as cerebral palsy.
  • Head and neck problems.

Feeding and swallowing trouble can be treated by Cleveland speech therapists, using a variety of approaches, depending on the underlying issue. We may work on certain muscle strength and movement exercises, adjusting food texture/taste/temperature/thickness, and altering the child’s position during mealtimes.

Feeding & swallowing therapy often focuses on making the mouth muscles stronger and more coordinated, improving chewing ease, ensuring they can breathe while chewing and swallowing, and slowly introducing them to a variety of new foods.

But how do these issues can impact a child’s speech-language development? As our Cleveland speech therapists can explain, feeding and swallowing are primary functions that require coordinated use of our mouths and respiratory system. Speech is a secondary function (meaning we don’t absolutely need it to survive) that uses the same anatomic structures. The muscle development that goes on in a typically-developing child learning to eat is important for later speech development. That’s why so often, when there are issues with feeding and swallowing, there are also issues with speech down the road.

A 2009 study published in the journal BMC Pediatrics examined kids ages 3 to 5 whose caregivers reported on their feeding and sucking behaviors during infancy. Kids given pacifiers (or even bottles very early on) had a higher rate of speech development issues, indicating extended sucking outside of breast feeding may be having a detrimental impact. Sucking habits can influence the mouth, jaw, and dental anatomy.

In another study published in 2015 int he journal Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, researchers looked back on the clinical files of dozens of kids language impairments. Some had motor impairments, others didn’t. What they found was early childhood feeding-swallowing difficulties had been reported for 62 percent of the kids overall. (This is significantly higher than the general population prevalence of feeding-swallowing difficulties of 20 percent.) Among those who had motor impairments, the rate was 87 percent. Among those with language impairments but no motor impairments, the rate of prior feeding-swallowing difficulties was 53 percent.

If you suspect your child has a feeding/swallowing issues, that of course needs to be treated as soon as possible in its own right. But also be mindful of how these issues can snowball into greater problems. Keep an eye out for indicators of possible speech and language delays, and discuss these with your pediatrician and any Cleveland speech therapists working with your child on feeding and swallowing.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides feeding, swallowing, and speech therapy to children in Akron, Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights and surrounding communities. We also offer occupational therapy, ABA therapy, summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Feeding and Swallowing Disorders in Children, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

More Blog Entries:

Speech Delays Higher Among Ohio Kids Whose Early Years Were During Pandemic, Jan. 20, 2023, Northeast Ohio Speech Therapy Blog