While dysphagia may be more prevalent in senior citizens, children can also be affected by this medical condition. When a child has difficulty safely chewing and swallowing food and liquids, they may be diagnosed with dysphagia. When a child with dysphagia starts school, they face new obstacles, including integrating personal health and wellness with academic development and social-emotional well-being. This group of children is at risk for malnutrition, sickness, and choking, in addition to being labelled as “picky eaters.”
An effective, comprehensive approach to treating dysphagia in children must include anxiety-reduction, self-monitoring, and self-regulation skills and strategies for the student.
Recognizing the Symptoms
The symptoms of this disorder may resemble those of other illnesses, so a proper diagnosis must be made. Having a child with dysphagia in your classroom or lunchroom can be challenging, but there are many ways that you can help them to cope with this condition.
Some symptoms may include chesty congestion after drinking or eating, drooling, choking, or gagging during or after eating, slow eating habits, repeated respiratory illnesses, and a wet or raspy voice during or after meals. For children with dysphagia, it may feel as if food is stuck in their throat.
Modify the Diet
School employees should explore a therapeutic approach to dealing with children with dysphagia, as well as cognitive interventions that teach coping strategies such as self-regulation and self-calming. When students are taught these methods deliberately and effectively, their behavior improves, their anxiety decreases, and they are enabled easier access to treatment and making eating a more pleasurable experience.
At mealtimes, children should be encouraged to sit up straight, have limited distractions, and be reminded to not use a straw for drinking liquids. Mixed consistency foods should be avoided. Liquids can be thickened with a high-quality product like SimplyThick thickener allowing the child to regulate the swallowing mechanism. Soft texture foods and more frequent smaller meals may also be a good choice.
Adjusting the Environment
Unexpected schedule changes that influence eating times can cause anxiety and problematic behavior in a child with dysphagia. Anticipating changes and encouraging the child to apply a coping strategy that can assist them will be beneficial to all parties. In situations like class field trips or excursions, anxieties may run high, and having a backup of high-calorie drinks or foods may prove beneficial.
In educational settings, a holistic approach for children with dysphagia can be used that recognizes and eliminates the impact of anxiety on a student’s reluctance to eating and food. Students can cope better and have a healthy and happy school experience if they are taught self-regulation and self-calming methods. Therapists can teach a child exercises to increase swallowing efficiency.
A Team Approach
Dysphagia treatment is determined by the root of the problem and the best approach is to work in a team. Because swallowing is such a complex process, a child’s care team (apart from parents or caregivers and teachers) will likely include an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a nutritionist, a psychologist, a gastroenterologist, an allergist, and an ear, nose, and throat doctor.
When all parties involved are on the same page regarding the child’s condition, more efficient coping strategies can easily be put in place.