Teaching Straw Drinking to Children With Oral Dyspraxia

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What is Oral Dyspraxia?

Oral dyspraxia is one form of a condition called developmental dyspraxia. Children with oral dyspraxia have difficulty with non-speech sounds (those skills made by the mouth that are not directly a part of speech). These children may find it harder than expected to perform tasks such as:

  • straw drinking
  • bubble blowing
  • candle blowing (such as on a birthday cake)
  • whistling
  • cheek popping (that neat sound you make when you pop the inside of your cheek with your finger)

Children with oral dyspraxia may also have other forms of dyspraxia, such as motor or verbal dyspraxia. Before you embark on a teaching plan to teach straw drinking to the children in your classroom, you must first establish whether oral dyspraxia is the reason for their difficulties, or if there is some other cause (perhaps cerebral palsy, a speech and language difficulty, a stroke or a motor planning problem, for example). The cause of the difficulty will guide your plan for the student.

Teaching Straw Drinking

This is one of those tasks where you have to get down and close to the task itself to really work out what is going on, as well as where the straw drinking tasks can go wrong for a student.

Here’s a breakdown of the task analysis I’ve used for teaching straw drinking - remembering that a task analysis can be an important step in designing curriculum for children with special needs.

  • Position body so the straw can be reached with the mouth
  • Close lips around straw to create a firm seal
  • Monitor body and hand position to ensure cup is not knocked over (often an issue if the child also has motor dyspraxia)
  • Check straw is immersed in liquid in the cup
  • Apply oral pressure to the straw to draw liquid into the straw (note that you cannot also breathe in through your nose while doing this)
  • Swallow liquid whilst maintaining suction on the straw with the lips and mouth and keeping the body balanced and stable and the cup flat on the table

As you can see, when you break down the process of drinking from a straw, there are many small discrete steps which all need to be completed successfully in order for the child to successfully learn and complete this task.

Tips for Success

Here are some tips to help ensure you will succeed in teaching this skill:

  • Consult with a therapist (such as a speech pathologist or speech therapist, or an occupational therapist) as they can offer some in-depth advice related to specific students in your class

  • Use a firm, non bendy straw which will not be damaged if it is bitten with the teeth, and will not split or begin to break down with use

  • Use a fairly short straw to begin with, as less suction force is needed to draw liquid into the straw

  • Remove some of the other tasks from the process to begin with, then introduce them into the process later

  • For example, hold the cup on the table yourself, or use a suction cup to keep the cup in place, rather than asking the child to monitor the stability of the cup, as well as learning to drink from it using a straw

  • Play oral games such as making fish faces in the mirror, blowing a ping-pong ball across a table or copying cheek, tongue and mouth actions with a partner

And remember that above all else, it is your role to ensure your students are safe during activities, so make sure you supervise children with oral dyspraxia closely when they are eating and drinking.