Though the discipline is referred to as speech-language pathology, speech-language pathologists are also experts in the identification and treatment of feeding and swallowing disorders.

Here at Aurora Speech Clinic, this is one of our speech therapy areas of clinical focus.

If you or a loved one has difficulty with feeding, swallowing, or both, the speech-language pathologists here at Aurora Speech Clinic can help.

Read on to find out more about feeding and swallowing disorders.

What Are Feeding & Swallowing Disorders?

Feeding and swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia, refer to difficulties or abnormalities in the process of moving food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach.

These disorders can occur at any age and can result from various underlying medical conditions, neurological issues, or structural abnormalities.

Feeding and swallowing disorders can lead to malnutrition, dehydration, aspiration (when food or liquid enters the airway), and other health complications if left untreated.

Speech-language pathologists play a crucial role in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of feeding and swallowing disorders.

Here’s how they help:

Feeding & Swallowing Assessment

Speech therapists begin by conducting a thorough assessment to determine the nature and severity of the feeding and swallowing disorder.

This assessment may include a number of different approaches.

They may employ clinical observations of oral-motor function and behaviour during feeding.

They may also use specialized diagnostic tools, such as videofluoroscopic swallowing study or fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES). This helps to visualize the swallowing process and identify specific issues.

Patient and caregiver interviews can help to gather medical history and information about feeding and swallowing difficulties.

Identification Of Feeding & Swallowing Disorders

Based on their assessment findings, your speech therapist can identify your specific feeding and swallowing disorder and its underlying causes. They may collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as doctors and dietitians, to determine the most appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment For Feeding & Swallowing Disorders

Once the cause of your disorder has been identified, your speech therapist will develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to your needs and goals.

Treatment approaches may include:

  • Oral-motor exercises and therapy to improve muscle strength, coordination, and control for safe swallowing
  • Techniques to improve sensory awareness and responsiveness related to food and liquids
  • Texture modification of foods and liquids to make them safer and more manageable for the individual
  • Strategies to improve posture and positioning during meals

  • Swallowing maneuvers to reduce the risk of aspiration (food entering your airway)

  • Education and training for caregivers to ensure safer feeding practices at home

Your speech therapist will regularly monitor your progress, adjusting your treatment plan as needed. This may involve periodic reassessment to track improvements and make necessary modifications to therapy goals and strategies.

Signs Of Dysphagia In Children

If your child has dysphagia, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Choking or gagging during or after eating or drinking

  • Coughing or wheezing while eating or drinking

  • Refusal to eat or drink, or fear of eating

  • Taking longer than usual to complete a meal

  • Frequent spitting up or vomiting, especially during or after meals

  • Drooling excessively, especially in older children who have typically outgrown this behaviour

  • Difficulty with specific food textures or types, such as solids or liquids

  • Pain or discomfort while swallowing

  • Frequent respiratory infections or pneumonia, which can be a result of food or liquid entering the airway (aspiration)

  • Weight loss or poor growth

  • Gurgling sounds in the throat during or after swallowing

  • Arching the back or stiffening during feeding

  • Fatigue during eating, as if the child is expending a lot of effort to swallow

Feeding difficulties in children can have a wide variety of potential causes, including:

Sensory Sensitivities

Some children may have heightened sensory sensitivities, making them extremely picky eaters. They may be sensitive to textures, smells, tastes, or the temperature of foods.

This may be a result of sensory processing disorder or autism spectrum disorder, but not necessarily.

Oral-Motor Difficulties

Oral-motor skills involve the coordination of muscles in the mouth and throat needed for eating and swallowing.

Some children may have difficulties with these skills, which can make it challenging for them to eat certain foods or transition to different textures.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions can impact a child’s ability to eat normally. Conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, food allergies, reflux, or chronic illnesses may cause discomfort or pain during eating.

Developmental Delays

Children with developmental delays, such as those associated with autism spectrum disorder, may have feeding difficulties due to sensory issues, communication challenges, or rigid eating behaviors.

Psychological Factors

Emotional factors like anxiety, trauma, or a history of negative feeding experiences can lead to feeding disorders. Children may associate eating with stress or fear, leading to food refusal.

Complications From Pediatric Dysphagia

If left untreated, pediatric feeding disorders may lead to significant complications.

These include:

  • Malnutrition

  • Physical growth impairment

  • Dehydration

  • Chronic lung infections due to aspiration

  • Embarrassment toward eating

  • Difficulty with social skills development

Fortunately, speech-language pathologists can offer support in a number of ways, depending on the root of the issue.

Common Symptoms of Dysphagia in Adults

In contrast with pediatric dysphagia, adult dysphagia is generally an acquired condition.

Common symptoms of dysphagia in adults may include:

Difficulty Swallowing

This is the hallmark symptom of dysphagia. Individuals with dysphagia may have trouble moving food or liquids from the mouth to the stomach.

Pain or Discomfort

Swallowing may be painful, uncomfortable, or feel like something is stuck in the throat. This can occur during or after swallowing.

Choking or Coughing

Some people with dysphagia may experience frequent choking or coughing while eating or drinking, as they may inhale food or liquid into their airway.


Food or liquids may come back up after swallowing, which can be unpleasant and may lead to aspiration pneumonia.

Change In Voice

Dysphagia can affect the vocal folds and cause changes in voice quality, such as hoarseness or a gurgling sound.

Weight Loss

Difficulty swallowing can make it challenging to eat enough food, leading to unintended weight loss.


In some cases, saliva may drool from the mouth, as swallowing difficulties can affect the control of saliva.

Gagging or Sensation of Food Sticking

People with dysphagia may frequently gag, and they may feel like food is getting stuck in their throat or chest.

Recurrent Respiratory Infections

Aspiration, where food or liquids enter the airway, can lead to frequent respiratory infections like pneumonia.

Avoidance of Certain Foods or Textures

Individuals with dysphagia may avoid certain foods or textures that they find difficult to swallow, leading to dietary limitations.

Causes And Treatment Of Adult Dysphagia

It’s essential to note that dysphagia can result from various underlying medical conditions.

This includes neurological disorders (such as stroke or Parkinson’s disease), esophageal disorders, structural abnormalities, and even aging related changes.

Therefore, it’s crucial to seek medical evaluation and diagnosis if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of dysphagia.

Treatment options for dysphagia will depend on the underlying cause and severity of the condition and may include dietary modifications, swallowing therapy, medications, or surgical interventions.

Book Your Appointment With Aurora Speech Clinic Today

Does your child or an adult loved one show signs of a feeding and swallowing disorder?

Or do you yourself suspect you may have one?

If so, Aurora Speech Clinic is here to help.

Book your appointment with Aurora Speech Clinic today.