What to Expect in a Feeding Therapy Evaluation
Many people think of the role of speech therapists as being limited to speech and language. However, we also play a key role in pediatric feeding therapy evaluation and treatment.
Our Fort Myers speech-language pathologists are experts in oral mechanics – all the way down to the esophagus. We’re specially qualified to support individuals with feeding and swallowing difficulties.
Most people don’t put a ton of thought into the process of feeding and swallowing, but but both actually involve dozens of steps and systems working in conjunction. Feeding is what it takes to get food off the plate and into the mouth. Swallowing involves all the steps it takes to chew and then move food down the throat while protecting the airway leading to the lungs.
A child may have a feeding AND swallowing disorder, or just one or the other. For example, a child on the autism spectrum may have a feeding disorder wherein their food intake is extremely limited due to sensory processing difficulties. They may only need feeding therapy. A child with tracheostomy tubes or dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) or odynophagia (pain while swallowing) may only need swallowing therapy.
The approaches will be different depending on the individual needs of the child and the findings from our speech therapists’ evaluation. Here’s what you can expect during an evaluation.
- Initial interview. This is where the speech therapist will ask you questions about your child’s family background, daily routine, developmental history, feeding preferences and what you hope to gain from speech therapy.
- Oral mechanism exam. After becoming acquainted with your child, the speech-language pathologist will conduct an oral mechanism examination. This will probably look like play time. What we’re actually doing is observing every mechanism in the feeding and swallowing process to determine what needs work. We’ll engage kids in a games and other play activities, have them make funny faces or blow through straws. What we’re looking at is their lips, cheeks, tongue, etc. to determine if there’s any weakness or asymmetry.
- “Snack time.” Here again, it might not seem much out of the ordinary, but we’ll offer a child different foods and textures. We may even have you bring some of their favorite utensils or food from home. We’ll observe and better identify their feeding and swallowing strengths and weaknesses. We’ll watch how they pick up the food, hold it in their mouth, chew and swallow it. We may video record this to more closely analyze later for diagnostic and treatment plan purposes.
- Therapy recommendations. Once the feeding and swallowing evaluation is complete, we’ll decide whether intervention is needed. If so, we will recommend therapies – and that may include occupational and physical therapy as well. Physical therapists may be needed for help with certain larger muscle groups to make feeding and swallowing successful. Occupational therapists help with activities of daily living, of which feeding and swallowing certainly are. Several of our occupational therapists and speech therapists are trained in S.O.S. Approach to Feeding therapy, which involves slowly – and playfully – introducing new foods to child with severe aversions. We’ve found that interdisciplinary work is most effective when it comes to feeding therapy and swallowing therapy.
If you have any questions about how we conduct feeding and swallowing therapy evaluations, we have answers! We encourage parents to maintain an open dialogue with our therapists throughout the process.