Speech Lady Jen Answers Feeding and Speech Questions

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Imagination Soup readers ask speech, oral sensory, and feeding questions of fellow reader and speech pathologist, Jennifer M. Hatfield M.H.S., cc/slp of Therapy and Learning Services, Inc.. Will her answers help you, too? Read on to find out.

Reader Question: My almost 3 year old developed a bad habit of sucking his food and we constantly have to tell him to chew which he knows how to do. Anyway, he has no speech problems and his mouth functions have been checked. He is just stubborn. How do we get him to consciously chew his food without constant nagging?

Speech Lady Jen: My first question(s) to you would be who checked his mouth functions and told you they were ok? And, is there possibly anything that you can connect with when this started to happen (new molars, allergies, bit his tongue/cheek, choked/gagged on a food?) You would be surprised at how often a seemingly “little” change to us is a BIG change for them.

I first of all, would recommend you have an examination by your pediatrician and then ask to have a consult with a feeding therapist (speech language pathologist.)

If everything after that is “fine” then I would recommend that you try serving more stick shaped foods like (soft cooked carrots in strips, REAL chicken fingers, soft cooked squash, veggie stick snacks, licorice etc…)

Have some fun in front of the mirror taking bites on the right side (chew and swallow) and then the left side (chew and swallow). Kids think it’s GREAT fun to watch themselves eat in the mirror.  🙂

Reader Question: My 3.5 yr old has a strong lisp, it affects how well people understand her. Should this be a concern? When do you start working with speech therapy to correct this? She was also a 32 week preemie.

Speech Lady Jen: 3-5 is quite early to work on a lisp, however it also depends on the “type” of lisp she is exhibiting. A frontal lisp (substituting what sounds like a /th/ sound for an /s/) is fairly common and “most” children will grow out of this by age 5. A lateral lisp (air comes out the sides of the mouth sounding “slushy” and “noisy” on sounds like /sh, ch/) is often from faulty oral structure, either jaw, tongue or both. If your child still uses a pacifier, sucks their fingers or has another oral “habit,” I would strongly suggest you begin to wean her from these as this is the time permanent changes occur in the oral cavity from behaviors such as this.

I would recommend you contact a speech language pathologist in your area and let that person decide. Several things can be done to assist the proper development for both of these articulation issues.

Reader Question: Yes! What phonics websites or books do you recommend. We use starfall.com and like it…but it’s kind of boring. My daughter has a lisp as well, so is there some guidance on how to get her to properly use her tongue when forming words?

Speech Lady Jen: Please see comments above for your lisp question. As far as Phonics websites or books…my favorites are: Bob Books (they have a GREAT set of apps for iPhone and iPad), Reading Rockets, Scholastic and I LOVE to just have fun with sounds like singing the name song( Sue Sue bo boo, banana fana fo foo) and playing rhyming games. Look up Phonological Awareness and you will find a  plethora of materials to use.  🙂

Reader Question: I have 4 kids 10, 7, 6, and 3 – all of whom have speech issues and have been in speech therapy for ever. My 10 year old has seemed to out grow speech problems and is doing well. My 6 and 3 year old are making gains slowly but surely and then there is my 7 year old that has many problems he still drools large amounts, can’t seem to learn how to chew food and swallow tries to swallow stuff whole and chokes at almost every meal, he also has been identified through school with a speech and language impairment that is severe, these are a few of the issues with him there are so so many. I have taken him to tons of doctors and still have no idea what the issue is at first they thought maybe autism and he was cleared from that and now no one seems to have any idea. I try to cope and help him as best as I can with little help any insight on older kids with speech issues would be great…It seems he grew to the age of 3ish and is now stuck there witch leaves him struggling in school home social life… I don’t usually post on threads but this issue is a great intrest to me and really any feed back would be great 🙂

Speech Lady Jen: Hi. So sorry to hear of your struggles. It will be hard for me to assist you as I don’t know what exactly the speech issues of the older children are. I would however, like to recommend that you check out Mommy Speech Therapy as she has some great worksheets and tips for parents to work with their children with regard to speech. As far as your 7 year old, I would like to suggest that you look into additional therapy for him/ her either through a hospital, clinic or private speech language pathologist. There are several things that a therapist could assist you with while you are awaiting a diagnosis.  🙂

Reader Question: What are some strategies one can use with a child who has oral motor and oral sensory issues? This question was asked by Jenny Adolph Kahl on the TLS page wall…:) 

Speech Lady Jen: I would LOVE to give you ideas for helping however I really would need to know what type of sensory issues the child is having. Are they hypo sensitive (under responsive) or hyper sensitive (over responsive)? Is it with food?  Is it with tooth brushing? Generically, anything like blowing horns, blowing bubbles, playing with different texture foods are ALL great FUN and can be helpful for the sensory responses in the oral cavity.

The thing to be careful about with oral sensory “play” is that you have a purpose and you try to always connect it with either a sound or oral movement so it becomes functional, purposeful and creates muscle/nerve memory.

Reader Question: At what age should I be concerned about speech problems like not saying “r” or “l”? I’ve heard and read really mixed responses to that question.

Speech Lady Jen: Oh, I’m sure you have had many differing answers and that is because it varies with EACH child. Truthfully. It really depends on many, many factors: is the child “hearing” the sound ok? is the child showing a “pattern” in their speech errors for those sounds and others?  does the child have an oral/motor issue that is affecting the sounds?  Some therapists will attempt to work on these sounds as early as 4 if the child is cognitively able and shows “stimulability” (the ability to make the sound when given cues; basically trial therapy).

My (Melissa) Question: My question is on feeding — how do you tell the difference between a picky eater and the beginnings of a problem – like anorexia?

Speech Lady Jen: GREAT question. I can’t really answer with regard to Anorexia as I am not trained in that area.  As far as picky eating goes, I like to distinguish between picky eating and problem eating. Problem eating is a clinical problem and picky eating can be a very typical childhood issue. The problem comes in when picky eating BECOMES problem eating; child loses weight, child accepts fewer than 5 or so foods, child has signs of physical issues like gagging, retching, etc. when presented with foods or when a food enters their mouth. A child who suddenly decides they don’t want to eat fruits and vegetables is a typical picky eater. A child who accepts only McDonald’s chicken nuggets or a certain brand of  a few, very limited, foods could be a problem eater. Again, a consultation with a speech language pathologist who specializes in feeding is warranted. You must first find out if there are things going on medically (reflux, allergies, constipation, other GI issues) that are causing the changes.

This is a broad area and one that is just now becoming looked at more closely. Many pediatricians do not know the right questions to ask when it comes to feeding. Our field is currently working on education for physicians, parents and other therapists to assist families with eating issues. An eating issue affects the ENTIRE family and a child’s total development.

Questions were all asked on Imagination Soup’s Facebook Fan Page:



Melissa: Thank you so much! Jen, I think I speak for everyone when I say we’ve learned so much from your expertise! How can we get in touch with you if we want to keep in touch or hire you?

Speech Lady Jen: I want to sincerely thank each of you for asking such wonderful questions. I would love for you all to “like” our FB page at http://www.facebook.com/therapyandlearningservicesinc. Please also check out our website at www.therapyandlearningservices.com as well as on twitter @jenspeechlady.  We post MANY educational articles and information on these sites. I would also like you to know that, should you desire, I am available for consultations via Skype. You can find the details on our website.

Thank you,

Jennifer M. Hatfield M.H.S,ccc/slp, Speech Language Pathologist, ASHA certified, Licensed SLP

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  1. Good information. I’d just started worrying about 3 year old not pronouncing some consonant sounds, but it sounds like I can wait another year or two before pursuing speech therapy.

    1. Emily,
      Your toddler (3 year old) should be at least 80% intelligible (understood) by those outside of your family. If he/she has MANY sounds in error, then I wouldn’t wait. A sound or two that is in the developmental range is fine to wait on. 🙂 Glad this gave you some comfort though.