Down Syndrome: Helping Your Child Eat Independently - Topic Overview
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
- 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
- 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 breast-feeding,
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
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