Objective: To determine the prevalence and nature of feeding difficulties and oral motor dysfunction among a representative sample of 49 children with cerebral palsy (12 to 72 months of age).
Study design: A population survey was undertaken by means of a combination of interview and home observational measures.
Results: Sucking (57%) and swallowing (38%) problems in the first 12 months of life were common, and 80% had been fed nonorally on at least one occasion. More than 90% had clinically significant oral motor dysfunction. One in three (36.2%) was severely impaired and therefore at high risk of chronic undernourishment. There was a substantial discrepancy between the lengthy duration of mealtimes reported by mothers and those actually observed in the home (mean, 19 minutes 21 seconds; range, 5 minutes 21 seconds to 41 minutes 39 seconds). In 60% of the children, severe feeding problems preceded the diagnosis of cerebral palsy.
Conclusions: Using a standardized assessment of oral motor function, we found the majority of children to have clinically significant oral motor dysfunction. Contrary to maternal report, mealtimes were relatively brief, and this, combined with the severity of oral motor dysfunction, made it difficult for some children to achieve a satisfactory nutritional intake. The study illustrates the importance of observing feeding, preferably in the home.