Specialized Pediatric Occupational Therapy, LLC
Ellen M. Venturella-Wilson, MS, OTR/L 314-368-0372
What is a Pediatric Feeding and Swallowing Disorder (Dysphagia)?

What is a Feeding Disorder?
Current research indicates that feeding disorders affect approximately 25-40% of children, from newborns to adolescents. As the science of medicine improves so does the survival rate of premature and at-risk newborns. As a result, more aggressive methods are being incorporated to assist these infants which may affect the infants development.  Prolonged exposure to noxious stimuli, such as CPAP, Bi-PAP, nasal
cannula, and/or NG/OG feeding tubes can increase the risk for feeding or swallowing dysfunction. For those children diagnosed with developmental disabilities, approximately 80% will have a feeding problem.  Feeding and swallowing symptoms are often associated with complex medical diagnoses. A feeding disorder can include problems such as food refusal, selectivity, inability to consume adequate calories, or an inability to consume an age appropriate diet.

Some of the medical diagnoses and underlying conditions, which can lead to feeding issues, include, but are not limited to: 

  • Prematurity
  • Broncho-Pulmonary Dysplasia (BPD)
  • Dysphagia
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Food Allergies
  • Gastroesophageal Motility Disorders
  • Gastrointestinal Pain, Gastrointestinal Reflux
  • Genetic Syndromes  
  • Cranial-Facial Disorders
  • Autism
  • Reactive Airway Disease
  • Metabolic Disorders
  • Oral-Motor Dysfunction
  • Short Bowel Syndrome
  • Cardiac Issues
  • Status Post Organ Transplant

What causes a Feeding Disorder?
Feeding and swallowing problems are most often attributed to complex medical diagnoses which may include prematurity, reflux, complications secondary to tube feeding for extended periods of time, and disorders of the digestive system.  Additionally, anatomical or structural abnormalities may include but may not be limited to congenital diaphragmatic hernia or
tracheo-esophageal fistula.   

Allergies, oral-motor dysfunction and delayed introduction of solid foods contribute significantly to the incidence of feeding disorders in children.  The presence of food refusal during mealtimes may increase child and parental anxiety resulting in frustration and maladaptive behaviors (such as gagging, vomiting, retching, crying, temper tantrums by the child, as well as, force feeding, coercion, negative/positive reinforcement by the parent).  



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