Motor Learning Approaches for Improving Negative Eating-related Behaviors and Swallowing and Feeding Skills in Children

  • Justine Joan Sheppard


In young children eating behaviors and the developmental sequence of eating skills that culminate in mature swallowing and eating function develop in tandem. Disruption of this developmental process may occur as a component of developmental, relational, neuropsychiatric, psychological, anatomical, neurological, medical, or developmental disorders. The movement sciences provide a theoretical foundation and evidence base for interventions that optimize learning of developmental movement behaviors, such as swallowing and eating, and improve the associated behaviors that support their performance. Research results indicate that optimum improvement in performance accrues when intervention addresses related behavioral issues as they would co-occur in natural environments. This chapter reviews the typical developmental sequences in eating behaviors and eating skills, the interactions between negative eating behaviors and delays in swallowing and eating skills, and motor learning approaches that address behavioral control, task selection, and practice routines for programs designed to habilitate the dual deficiency in behaviors and skills. The motor learning strategies include attention to task, tolerance of the sensory array in eating, motivation for compliance with the guiding adult, task specificity, variability in developmental motor sequences, implicit learning, transfer of learning, rehearsal, maximizing practice opportunities, blocked and random practice sequences, and use of extrinsic feedback. The goals of these interventions are achievement of: (a) age expectations for nutrition and hydration, (b) age-appropriate swallowing and eating skills, (c) the underlying motor competencies and age-appropriate eating pragmatics.


Motor Learning Implicit Learning Task Repetition Target Task Food Refusal 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Dynamic systems theory


Neonatal intensive care unit


Speech-language pathologist



With appreciation to my valued colleague, Laura McKirdy, for her insightful comments on this manuscript and for our collaboration at lake Drive School.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biobehavioral Sciences, Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

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