Paediatric Dysphagia Service (0-19yrs) Complex Needs Team (West Sussex)

We are a group of Speech and Language Therapists who have specialised in eating, drinking and swallowing difficulties in babies, children and young people (aged 0-19 years).

We do this in addition to our work with children’s speech, language and communication. The service works through supporting families and carers of babies, children and young people who are having difficulties with eating, drinking and/or swallowing.

We are based across the county usually in Child Development Centres or Special Schools.

We can offer the following service:

  • Assessment of child’s eating, drinking and swallowing within a mealtime environment
  • Advice on how to develop these skills e.g. by modifying food or drink textures or feeding strategies
  • Training to groups of professionals/carers around the development of and functional eating, drinking and swallowing

We often work in conjunction with a Dietician (if there are concerns about growth), an Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist (for support with feeding support systems such as seating).

We do not have access to the services of a Psychologist so are unable to support children with learnt feeding difficulties.

Should I be worried?

You may be concerned about one of the following issues:

  • Your child is not accepting foods that you feel she/he should be at their age
  • Your child is coughing when eating or drinking
  • Your child is retching/gagging on food
  • They choke on some foods regularly
  • With a school aged child, your child’s teacher may have expressed concerns about their eating and drinking in school

What do I do?

If you are concerned about your child’s eating and drinking or drinking in the first instance you should talk to your Health Visitor. If this is not possible then speak to your GP about your concerns.

If your child is seeing a hospital Paediatrician or a Paediatrician in a Child Development Centre or Special School, then discuss your concerns with that doctor.

If your child is at school then discuss with their teacher have they  noticed anything when the child is eating and drinking at school?

If your child is over 5 years old and has never been referred for a specialist feeding assessment by a Speech and Language Therapist you will need to go to your GP, explain your concerns and request a referral to a specialist Speech and Language Therapist for a feeding assessment.

If your child has had a feeding assessment by a Speech and Language Therapist in the past then any of these professionals (Health Visitor, School Nurse, Speech& Language Therapist, Physiotherapist,Occupational Therapist ) can refer to our team for an assessment of eating, drinking and swallowing. They will ask for your consent to make this referral and will ask you to complete a questionnaire. This will help us in our assessment of your child’s difficulties with feeding.

What happens next

Once we have received a written referral you will be notified and a mutually convenient appointment time and venue will be arranged with you for an assessment of your child’s eating, drinking and swallowing. You will be asked to bring food and drink that your child enjoys to this assessment as well as your child’s cup, bottle, spoon and plate. Depending on the age of your child you may be asked specifically to also bring along finger foods. These are useful with older babies, toddlers, children and young people to assess how well they move their mouth for biting and chewing food.

With school aged children this assessment can be done at school if that is agreed with their parents. The parents will be invited to meet with the Speech and Language Therapist after the assessment to discuss their concerns.

The therapist will discuss with the family the findings from her/his assessment and observations (of the child eating and drinking) and will give advice and practical demonstrations where needed of strategies to help promote/develop feeding skills.

The therapist will sometimes recommend modifications to the food texture and occasionally these require a prescription which the therapist will request from your child’s GP. Very occasionally the therapist will recommend further investigations are carried out, she/he will write to your child’s GP (or Paediatrician) to request this.

Following assessment the therapist will write a report, a copy will come to you, one will be sent to your child’s GP and Health Visitor and to any named professional involved in your child’s care e.g. school, respite care facility. The report will set out the following:

  • Assessment findings
  • Advice given
  • Strategies discussed with you at appointment
  • Any follow up arrangements including recommendations for referral on for further investigations OR
  • Discharge from the service
  • The report will have the name and contact details of the therapist/therapy service

Contact the Speech and Language for Children (West Sussex) Service if you would like to speak to a speech and language therapist.