» » » Is There A Link Between Feeding And Speech?

Is There A Link Between Feeding And Speech?

“My child does not chew…will this impact on their speech?”

“My child is delayed in their feeding skills, does this mean they will also be delayed in their speech development?”

… certainly we use the same anatomy to suck, eat and drink as we do to speak; and the two skills develop in parallel. As they develop, toddlers start to build on the basic oral-motor movements used in feeding (i.e. movement of the lips, tongue, palate) to acquire the complex skills required for speech production. Babies usually develop specific oral-motor movements in their feeding before they combine these movements with sound in their sound play. Babies typically increase their vocalisations and range of sounds after they have been introduced to more textured foods.

But is there a direct link between the two skills? When children experience difficulties with specific oral-motor movements and co-ordination during feeding, they are likely to experience similar difficulties in speech sound productions. For example, the child that has difficulties with tongue tip elevation in feeding, will probably have difficulties with tongue tip elevation in speech. However, this alone does not prove that the oral movements in feeding are required for speech development – otherwise, why do babies who are exclusively fed via a feeding tube develop speech? Such children may have had no oral feeding experiences and yet go on to develop speech without any difficulty. This suggests that oral experiences, other than feeding, may contribute to the development of speech. For example, babies and children also develop their oral skills through mouthing on toys, objects, fingers etc – exploring their sensory world through their mouth and tongue.   They learn about how things feel and what their oral anatomy (lips, tongue, palate, cheeks) can do. Such sensory awareness is also an important part of speech development.

Is there a link between feeding and speech?So there is clearly a link between feeding and speech development as the two systems use the same anatomy and similar processes. Feeding development begins with repetitive sucking. This is a skill that babies refine and improve over time. In the same way babbling, which forms the basis of speech development, is also repetitive and refined over time. However some scientists believe that speech and feeding develop as two separate pathways in the brain. These two systems are interconnected however the development of the speech pathway is not dependent on the feeding pathway. Therefore there does not appear to be any direct causal link – that is, if your child has feeding difficulties, it does not necessarily mean they will go on to have difficulties with making sounds and speech.   Similarly, children with speech sound difficulties, do not necessarily have problems with feeding. What is important is that any child that has difficulties with feeding is given opportunities to work on building these skills through motor and sensory experience, sound play and watching adults model these. While most children develop oral-motor skills through feeding first and then generalise these to speech production, other children may develop their skills initially through sound play and then generalise these skills to use in the manipulation of food and drink.



“My child does not chew…will this impact on their speech?”

Not necessarily. Children may not chew for a number of reasons. Some children have the capacity and skills to chew (i.e have the oral motor movements and co-ordination to chew) but they don’t chew when given appropriate foods. Such children may have sensory or behavioural feeding difficulties. For example, they may just hold solid food in their mouth without biting/chewing on it….or they may only accept puree food that they can immediately swallow without any oral manipulation or chewing. In such cases, the child may not have any difficulties with their motor movements per se – the movements that they may then go on to use in developing speech.