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Children with cerebral palsy often need additional assistance when eating. The following tips can help make daily meal times a bit easier.
Feeding a Child with Cerebral Palsy
Many infants and children with cerebral palsy experience difficulties when eating and drinking. Some kids will only have minor issues, whereas others have severe oral motor disorders and need significant help.
Numerous medical studies have shown that children with cerebral palsy have a high chance of suffering some degree of malnutrition. Mealtimes with children who have cerebral palsy can last much longer than the average mealtime, regardless of how severe the disorder is. Even with longer mealtimes, some children still will not get the nutrition they need.
To help your child learn about feeding and get adequate nutrition, you’ll need to introduce food and eating in a positive way.
Make sure your child can see the plate and food clearly, and consider purchasing child-friendly, colorful plates and utensils. You may even consider using dishes with a favorite cartoon character printed on them.
Smelling, touching, and learning about food help children better understand eating and ultimately help the feeding process. Allow your child to touch the food and smell it before attempting to feed.
Once you start feeding your child, make sure they swallow fully. Children with cerebral palsy often have trouble swallowing all of their food. This can become a problem, especially if the child is not getting enough nutrition. Speak with your child’s primary health care provider about the numerous techniques in helping your child open their mouth the correct way.
Some children with cerebral palsy tend to thrust their tongue and have a hard time keeping their mouths closed. You can help by providing soft foods that can be swallowed and digested easier. You may need to utilize the services of a speech-language therapist, especially if your child has trouble swallowing.
Once your child learns proper swallowing techniques and you are confident that they are getting the needed nutrition, consider letting the child practice feeding alone. Start by placing a spoon in the child’s hand and guiding the food into their mouth.
Practice the step until the child grasps the concept and learns to use the spoon alone. Keep in mind that this may take quite a bit of training, and your child may not pick up on it right away. Remember that despite the possible messes from shaky little hands, you promote your child’s independence.
Once your child can grasp a spoon and guide it to their mouth, start introducing finger foods, such as crackers, grapes, and bread. Have your child hold the food, and then help guide it to their mouth. However, you must ensure that your child is eating adequate amounts of all the foods to avoid any nutritional deficiencies.
Things to Remember About Children with Cerebral Palsy and Feeding
It’s important to remember that children with cerebral palsy have symptoms and associated disorders that may make feeding times difficult, including:
- Exaggerated bite reflex
- Gag reflex
- Tongue thrusting
- Tactile hypersensitivity
For the above reasons, experts suggest that parents and caregivers utilize a team of professionals to help with the child’s feeding needs and nutrition.
“This team should include all relevant health care professionals and the patient’s family. The professional members of the feeding team should include a gastroenterologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist, dietitian, nurse, and psychologist. The evaluation should encompass the patient’s ability to suck, masticate, swallow, control head and trunk, maintain nutritional status, and sustain an adequate level of consciousness (neurologic status).”
If your child with cerebral palsy struggles to eat, talk to your pediatrician. They can direct you to the right experts and help you come up with a solution.
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- Craven, J. (2008). Children with cerebral palsy: A manual for therapists, parents and community workers - By Archie Hinchcliffe. British Journal of Special Education, 35(1), 63-63.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8578.2008.00372_2.x
- Allen, M. C. (1998). Book review the cerebral palsies: Causes, consequences, and management by Geoffrey Miller and Gary D. Clark. 368 pp. Boston, Butterworth–Heinemann, 1998. 0-7506-9964-7. New England Journal of Medicine, 339(20), 1484-1484.
Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1056/nejm199811123392019