How to improve eating function and language skills of infants and children with oral dysfunction?

Eating and speaking are closely related as they both require movements of the mouth.

Most of the time, we give infants and children with oral dysfunction soft, semi-liquid, and digestible food, but long-time dependence on such food can have a negative effect on their eating functions and language skills.

We may make small adjustments to the food we provide and the ways we feed the children so as to help them improve their eating and language functions.

Texture of food

The diversity of food texture means that the food can be hard, soft, thin, thick, sticky and crispy etc. Different textures of food are chewed in different ways and have different stimulations on the inner wall of the mouth.

Sensory dysfunction is also common in children with motor dysfunction. The same is true for the mouth, whose motor impairment is often closely correlated with sensation disorders. Therefore, sensory training of the mouth’s inner wall is very important for the recovery of eating and language functions, and different textures of food can provide opportunities for such training.

Crispy cucumbers, soft tofu, resilient beef, hard lean meat, thin milk and thick rice porridge, etc. are all very good food for sensory training, which in-cludes chewing, swallowing, drooling control and other skills. But it is important to remember that the training must not be rushed, and we should avoid feeding the children with too hard, loose or sticky food.

Shapes and sizes of food

Pronunciation is a very complex innervation proc-ess that needs the coordination of one’s tongue, lips, palate, teeth and jaw.

If we provide the children with different shapes of food during meals, they will get to move their mouth in different beneficial ways.

For instance, different sizes and shapes of fruits, melons, ham sausages, cookies, chicken and pastry require different mouth shapes. One need close his/her lips while taking in noodles, and open his/her mouth wide for steamed buns and dumplings.

We need encourage the children to take their time instead of rushing through the meals, because eating is both enjoyment and a rehabilitation training process. 

Types of food

The development and improvement of language skills are inseparable from one’s cognition, and different types of food is really important for the children’s cognitive development. 

Details matter but are often neglected. It seldom occurs to people that children with neurodev-elopmental disorders most need to learn about what we see and eat every day. 

Exposure to different types of food like noodle, dumplings, fruits, vegetables, seafood and drinks etc. will help the children efficiently improve their cognitive and language skills. 

While providing them a variety of nutrients necessary for physical development, the diverse food children access everyday can help them develop a healthy lifestyle and good eating behaviors. 


Different utensils require different ways of eating. In many cases, adults choose to feed children with special needs, because this is the easiest and most effortless way to help the children with their meals. But to improve their eating function and language skills more efficiently, we need to give them opportunities to use different utensils and try different ways of eating.

For example, allow them to drink water with different sizes and shapes of straws, cups, bottles or bowls, and eat with different types of spoons, forks and chopsticks. This will prompt them to figure out appropriate ways they can use their mouth and hands. 

Ways of communication

Encourage children to communicate in every possible way, such as with spoken words, gestures, texts and pictures, etc. They maybe inarticulate, so allow them to make unclear pronunciation and babble. This will inflame their desire to communicate and seek more opportunities for talking. Exercises of moral muscles also promote swallowing and chewing functions.

The three meals children have every day not only provide them with rich nutrition, but also help them enjoy life and improve their oral functions. With a little adjustment to the details of our life, we can turn our routines into opportunities for learning, training and fun experiences. In this way, the children will rehabilitate through more practical and enjoyable daily activities.  

Wei Guorong, Senior Rehabilitation Directo