Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Importance of Straw Drinking

I recently received an email from one of my followers who is also a fellow blogger, Gretchen Mather (Julian's Journey), and she was wondering why straws should be cut for kids with Down syndrome.

Since I knew I had put a post up sometime ago in regards to cutting straws, I went back to read it and see if it covered the question, and it did not. It's an important thing to note and remember for kids with Down syndrome, so I thought it deserved it's own post.

When it comes to using straws, they can be very beneficial. But, if they are not used correctly, they can cause more harm than good. Part of the TalkTools oral motor program is to use their straw hierarchy. We've slacked from following it strictly, but it works very well.

Now you might ask "what does drinking from a straw have to do with oral motor therapy?"

Well, there's a lot to it.

A child can learn to drink from a straw from an early age. We taught O how to drink from a straw around 13 months old (because that happened to be when we found out about it) with the Honey Bear cup from TalkTools. It's very easy to to teach a baby how to drink out of the Honey Bear because you can squeeze it and the liquid will go up the straw into the child's mouth.

For a child to learn how to drink out of a straw, it'll greatly encourage tongue retraction and discourage tongue protrusion. But,  most of the time, when the child learns to drink from the straw initially, they will drink with their tongue sticking out and therefore be sucking with their tongue, not their lips. This does the exact opposite of what you want the straw drinking to do. This encourages tongue protrusion and completely prohibits tongue retraction.

Therefore, you have to start out with the first straw from TalkTools and slowly cut it down to where there is just 1/4"-1/2" of the straw for the child to suck on. The first few straws also have a tongue block so that the child's tongue won't be able to stick out. After the child gets accustomed to drinking out of a short straw with straw #1, you can move onto straw #2. Straw #2 uses a lip block as well. You move on as the child progresses with each straw.

Doing this straw hierarchy, or just implementing it at home by cutting straws short, putting lip blocks on the straw or reminding the child to suck out of a straw with their tongue in, will make it so that the child's tongue does not hang out of their mouth. And it will also make it so that the child's speech will improve, because their tongue will be stronger and not in the way as much.

We remind O to suck with his tongue in his mouth, since it can be a habit sometimes to have his tongue out when sucking out of the straw. But, most of the time he does it well and as he is just relaxed, most of the time his tongue stays in his mouth. The only times it does not is when he's very concentrated on doing something ;).

So, I hope this explains some how important straw drinking is.



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