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Eating with Down Syndrome

A child with Down syndrome is born with an extra copy of a chromosome changing the body’s ability to grow and develop (CDC, 2023). The changes in how the body develops creates physical and mental challenges. Challenges can include but are not limited to: hearing loss, obstructive sleep apnea, social interaction with peers, ear infections, eye diseases, heart defects, or eating difficulties. In addition, children with Down syndrome are associated with low muscle tone, reduced oral space, thin lips, almond-shaped eyes, small hands/feet, and shortness in stature (Lewis & Kritzinger, 2004). Down syndrome is a lifelong condition, therefore several services are helpful for the person to achieve their full potential.


When a new parent or caregiver starts to learn more about their child diagnosed with Down syndrome, feeding and eating difficulties tend to be present (Lewis & Kritzinger, 2004). “80% of children with Down syndrome have difficulties related to food or feeding” (Shaw, 2003). Eating difficulties can include decreased strength, weak sucking, weak swallowing, poor lip closure, strong tongue protrusion, and difficulty with nose breathing during eating.


What feeding therapy may look like:

  • Encouraging proper positioning in seat

  • Emotional regulation

  • Oral motor skill development

  • Structuring mealtime

  • Try-it strategies for new foods

  • Caregiver education to improve feeding at home

  • Sensory processing exploration

  • Addressing attention span

  • Using first, then approach

  • Develop meal preparation skills


References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 9). Facts about down syndrome.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/birthdefects

/downsyndrome.html

Lewis, E., & Kritzinger, A. (2004). Parental experiences of feeding problems in their infants

with Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome Research and Practice, 9(2), 45–52.

Shaw, R. J., Garcia, M., Thorn, M., Farley, C. A., & Flanagan, G. (2003). Treatment of feeding

disorders in children with Down Syndrome. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry,

8(1), 105–117. https://doi.org/10.1177/1359104503008001010

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