Hypotonia is a medical term used to describe decreased muscle tone, or the amount of tension we have in our muscles. Our muscle tone helps us to control our bodies when we are moving, shifting position, sitting, and standing. Many children with hypotonia have delays in their gross motor development and speech development, however hypotonia can also affect feeding skills and ability.
Some children with hypotonia may have trouble feeding because their decreased muscle tone impacts their ability to chew, suck, or swallow solid food or liquids independently. This can lead to challenges with chewing adequately for eating and swallowing safely. Coordination and strength are necessary to chew and move food with the tongue to initiate a swallow. Weakened oral motor skills impact the child’s coordination and strength and therefore can pose a choking hazard. Providing additional support during meal times can help your child to be more successful!
Below are some ways to prepare and present food to prevent choking for a child with hypotonia:
Present a small amount of food on the plate and refill as necessary to avoid over-stuffing; this also helps make it easier for children to grab food with fingers or utensils.
Pureed Food: Food must have a smooth texture but should not be runny. Food can be pureed in a food processor or blender. Sometimes adding a small amount of liquid can help make it smooth.
Ground Food: Food should be soft or small enough to swallow with little or no chewing. Grind food using a food processor or blender.
Chopped Food: Chop food into bite-sized pieces using a food chopper, knife, or food processor.
Finger Foods: These foods allow children to use their grasp and work on taking bites and recognizing appropriate bite size. (pretzel rods, carrot sticks, cheese sticks).
For a successful meal time, eating should be the only responsibility of the child at that time. Children with hypotonia may need seating systems to provide proper positioning and head support while eating. Adaptive seating systems help encourage sitting skills while the child is eating. Some examples of supportive seating can include a highchair, booster seat, and a seat with higher back and sides. Children with hypotonia may also lack the ability to grasp utensils in order to feed themselves. Companies offer adaptive utensils, drinking aids and dishes for children who have difficulty with self feeding.
A speech-language pathologist can help evaluate and develop a treatment plan to improve your child’s oral motor skills. This will help give them better control over the muscles in the mouth and improve their overall feeding abilities.
If you have concerns about your child and are interested in speech therapy services or if you’d like more information, please reach out to us! Find our contact information by clicking here.