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Feeding and swallowing disorders (also known as dysphagia) include difficulty with any step of the feeding process—from accepting foods and liquids into the mouth to the entry of food into the stomach and intestines. A feeding or swallowing disorder includes developmentally atypical eating and drinking behaviors, such as not accepting age-appropriate liquids or foods, being unable to use age-appropriate feeding devices and utensils, or being unable to self-feed. A child with dysphagia may refuse food, accept only a restricted variety or quantity of foods and liquids, or display mealtime behaviors that are inappropriate for his or her age.

Dysphagia can occur in any phase of the swallow. Although there are differences in the relationships between anatomical structures and in the physiology of the swallowing mechanism across the age range (i.e., infants, young children, adults), typically, the phases of the swallow are defined as

Oral Preparation Stage—preparing the food or liquid in the oral cavity to form a bolus-including sucking liquids, manipulating soft boluses, and chewing solid food.

Oral Transit Phase—moving or propelling the bolus posteriorly through the oral cavity.

Pharyngeal Phase—initiating the swallow; moving the bolus through the pharynx.

Esophageal Phase—moving the bolus through the cervical and thoracic esophagus and into the stomach via esophageal peristalsis (Logemann, 1998).