Swallowing Difficulty and People with Intellectual Disability – Part 3

hard to swallow campaign

1. Talking about swallowing difficulty

“No, I don’t have trouble swallowing, I eat a normal diet.”

Many people - with and without intellectual disability - say they have ‘no trouble with eating’ even if they are coughing quite a lot and eating very little.

Many people will say that they are on a ‘normal diet’ because it is usual for them to eat soft foods.

The person and their family members might not notice the coughing or choking if it has become part of everyday life and happens all the time. This is because they have gradually gotten use to the ‘trouble swallowing’ and see it as ‘normal’.  To help to ‘focus’ on swallowing, talk about:

  • What do you prefer to eat now - what do you enjoy eating?
  • Are there certain foods you used to like but don’t like any more?
  • Are there any foods that you avoid?
  • What foods do you eat now?
  • Do you notice any coughing or choking?

Picture: Gary Radler www.garyradler.com

“No, I don’t cough or choke on food.”

It can be hard to tell others that you cough or choke on food or drinks.

Some people fear that telling others about coughing will change what they can have to eat. They might have seen this happen to other people that they know.

It is important that people feel safe to tell other people that they have trouble swallowing.


Picture: Gary Radler www.garyradler.com

2. Talking with a speech pathologist

“I need to talk about my meals.”

It can be easier to talk about coughing or choking on food or drinks if you have some time to prepare what you want to say. Finding out more information can help you to make a good decision. Take your own information about your swallowing and meals to your appointment.


Picture: Gary Radler www.garyradler.com

How to prepare for your appointment:

  • Take photos of your meals to show the speech pathologist what you usually eat, and what you enjoy.
  • Think about what is important to you about mealtimes. Think about what you really like about your meals, and what you don’t like.
  • Talk about any problems you have with food falling out of your mouth, or chewing or swallowing things, or problems with coughing or choking, or the food getting stuck in your neck.
  • Point to where the trouble is – mouth, neck, throat, chest, stomach.
  • Whatever the trouble, think about how to tell the speech pathologist.

What do you want to know?
Talk with your family member or support worker. They can help you to find the best way to ask for the information that you want. 
Show me some pictures of what could be happening inside when I swallow.
Tell me why I am having this difficulty.
Tell me some ways I can keep enjoying the foods I like.
I want to know all of my options of what to do next.
I want to know what will happen if I do nothing about this problem.
I want to know about ‘safer’ foods and ‘risky’ foods.
I would like some written information I can take home to think about.
I need more time to think about this. How long can I take?
I would like another opinion. Is there someone else I can talk to about this?
I have a lot of questions. I need some help understanding everything.
Can you explain what you mean?

3. Your views, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and ideas are important

“I have a lot to say about this!”

  • Trouble with eating and drinking can impact on many areas of life. 
  • It’s important to talk about how you feel about your swallowing.
  • Talk your family member or support worker about how you feel about meals.
  • Your feelings and thoughts are important to any decisions that are made.
  • You can ask a support person to help you in appointments.
  • You can ask for support in helping you in making decisions about eating.


Picture: Gary Radler www.garyradler.com

ph. 1800 424 065       email: info@nswcid.org.au

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