Speech-language pathologists who work with children experiencing feeding and/or swallowing issues often find themselves providing intervention alone in a home or clinic setting. However, pediatric feeding issues tend to be complex, and clients greatly benefit from a collaborative interdisciplinary team approach to treatment.
What’s more, working closely with other specialists provides a professionally rewarding experience for SLPs and other team members. The multifaceted nature of eating and swallowing disorders makes it difficult to fully remediate the issue from a single discipline perspective. Feeding intervention takes a team.
However, parents often find themselves with specialists in different locations with varying treatment philosophies making coordinated care difficult. This might overwhelm parents and slow progress while team members try to connect. SLPs who routinely treat clients with feeding/swallowing issues can build a “virtual” team of local professionals, to improve care for their clients. A virtual team would include a medical provider (developmental pediatrician, gastro-intestinal physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant), registered dietitian, occupational therapist, physical therapist, otolaryngologist (ENT) and pulmonologist.
If your clients don’t have access to a pediatric feeding team, I recommend this strategy. I was able to do this years ago when I worked in early intervention feeding and found this approach highly successful for my clients and their families. Already having team members in place eases the process of getting a physician’s input, for example, or when advocating for my client’s medical and nutritional management. Thanks to myriad communication options available these days, your team may never even meet in person. Virtual team collaborations—either all together or in small groups—are easy to arrange. Before working on a case together, arrange preferred communication methods with other team members.
As the team member who treats the child most regularly and works closely with caregivers, you might understand the issues better than the primary care provider or other specialists. This means you might play a coordination role for the team and advocate for the child when accessing a care plan from the team members.
Remember, everyone’s goal is to help the child feel better, thrive and progress with developmental milestones. As you share clients with your team, collaboration will likely get easier and you may find your team members refer back to you for assistance on other cases as well.
Five final tips for building a feeding/swallowing team:
- If you don’t already work on a formal interdisciplinary team, you can develop a “virtual team” of various professionals to consult when needed.
- Call the client’s primary physician or referring medical professional yourself with any questions instead of asking the family to explain issues. This allows you to build relationships and better express any client concerns.
- Maintain regular contact with medical and nutritional support professionals regarding progress. Client improvement usually requires updates in team members’ approaches and multiple visits by the client to the doctor or dietician as the treatment progresses.
- Network with other SLPs to find professionals who work best with eating/feeding disorders in your area.
- Consider launching a local professional feeding group to discuss current information, research or case studies.
Krisi Brackett, MS, SLP-CCC, has specialized in pediatric feeding for more than 20 years. She also writes a blog, Pediatric Feeding News, and is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia). firstname.lastname@example.org