Eating and Drinking Difficulties

Eating and drinking difficulties (called Dysphagia) occur when a child is unable to eat or drink appropriately for their age and stage of development.

Speech and language therapists offer support to children and young people from birth to 18 years where feeding difficulties are impacting on their ability to fully participate in daily life.

How do I know if my child has problems with eating and drinking?

Signs of Dysphagia can include the child:

  • Coughing or choking when eating or drinking
  • Bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
  • Feeling that food is ‘stuck’
  • Finding it difficult to eat foods with a variety of tastes and textures
  • Not like anything in or near their mouth
  • Having an unusual pattern of chewing and swallowing

Over time, Dysphagia can also cause symptoms such as weight loss and repeated chest infections.

Children and young people with feeding difficulties may be seen by other health professionals such as paediatricians, dietitians, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. They can also have supplementary feeding via a naso-gastric tube.

Guidance and helpful information

If there is a concern regarding the safety of your child being able to swallow then they should be seen by their GP or health visitor as soon as possible.

There is an open referral system which means that parents/carers as well as practitioners can contact the SLT administration centre directly to discuss referral.

Support from your health visitor can be sought to help move a baby on through their weaning stages.

However, if a child is showing an unusual pattern of development or they are not able to move through the stages of weaning then a referral onward to see a speech and language therapist would be appropriate so a specialist therapy method can be given.

You can also try activities in the advice sheets to the right of the page with your child. This gives a list of soft foods you can try with your child, tips on messy food play and a food diary.

How we can help

Once your child has been seen by a dysphagia trained specialist speech and language therapist, they will make recommendations to support your child’s eating and drinking. These recommendations may include: messy food play; texture development; positioning of your child or the use of different utensils.

Referral information

If you suspect your child has dysphagia, please speak to your GP or health visitor immediately.

Please complete the referral form and send to the administration centre. We aim to see all urgent referrals within 10 working days and non-urgent referrals within one month.

If your child is choking or in urgent need of attention, you should call 999.