Paediatric dysphagia refers to children with difficulties chewing and swallowing food and drink. Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) working in this area provide support for children with difficulties at the oral and pharyngeal level. These difficulties may be anatomical or physiological.
It is common for SLTs working in paediatric dysphagia to participate in managing feeding difficulties that are not caused solely by anatomical or physiological difficulties in the oral tract, that is, aversive feeding difficulties.
SLTs work as part of a multi-disciplinary team in order to manage dysphagia needs in children. The SLT will participate in both assessment and intervention for an individual child. As children with dysphagia develop, their needs will change over time, so the role for the SLT includes ongoing support.
Clinicians should also provide appropriate education and training to caregivers and relevant healthcare, social service and education professionals to assist in the intervention process. It is part of the role of the SLT to support families and carers at home and in other contexts, such as school, by facilitating safe feeding, through identifying intervention strategies and training caregivers in implementing them.
The SLT can provide support through advice on adapting the consistency of food/drink to increase safety. It may also be appropriate to identify augmentative equipment to promote independence or to provide advice around effective positioning for feeding to maximise safety. The SLT may also be involved in supporting the family to make the decision to use alternative feeding methods, such as via gastrostomy, or to help reintroduce oral feeding following tube-feeding.
The role of a Paediatric Dysphagia SLT is a complex one and it is necessary to participate in further training post-qualification in order to work with this client group.