Down Syndrome: Helping Your Child Eat Independently
Children with Down syndrome can learn to eat by themselves with your help and encouragement. Eating independently is a developmental milestone that involves the use of small muscles (fine motor skills), large muscles (gross motor skills), and hand-eye coordination.
Before teaching your child self-feeding skills, look for signs of readiness, such as the child's reaching for food. Your child may also like to play with food and try to put it in his or her mouth.
Use these tips to help your child learn to eat independently:
- Set aside time for the family to sit down together for meals. Make sure your child is in a comfortable chair that is placed high enough so that he or she can see others eating. Young children are more likely to try to eat independently when they are with others and can see what is going on around them.
- Use a step-by-step approach for eating solid foods and using utensils. Encourage your child to dip his or her fingers in food and bring it to the mouth. You may need to guide your child's arm and hand in this process. To start with, use your child's favorite foods to demonstrate the reward (good taste) for the action (dipping fingers and putting them in the mouth). When your child masters the finger-to-mouth routine, introduce finger foods, followed by spoon-feeding. Repeat the same strategy of physically moving your child's arm and hand, dipping the spoon into a favorite food and putting it to his or her mouth.
- Teach drinking from a cup (without a lid) by using thick liquids. Initially, milk shakes or other beverages that have a thick consistency are better for learning to drink out of a cup. Have your child sit in an upright position and in an area where spills will be easy to clean up.
- Encourage your child and be enthusiastic about his or her progress in learning to eat.
Down syndrome often affects the muscles in the mouth, causing the tongue to stick out. This may interfere with feeding, including breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, and eating solid food. Most children overcome these types of problems, although they will likely master eating skills at a later age than other children.
If you have problems feeding your baby or don't think he or she is getting enough nutrition to grow properly, talk with a registered dietitian who works with children who have disabilities.
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