The role of the speech therapist in the academic deglutology training

Edited by Antonella Cerchiari

Deglutology has become a true specialization in Medical Sciences. Over time, the improvement in survival rates of premature infants and children with neuromotor disabilities, the increase in life expectancy, the evolution of diagnostic techniques and greater sensitivity to the issue have impacted daily clinical practice, resulting in an exponential increase in requests for intervention on patients with feeding and swallowing disorders of all ages. Feeding and swallowing disorders are found in neonatal, infantile, adult and geriatric age and can determine problematic clinical patterns that require an integrated and comprehensive approach. 

Considering the significant impact that swallowing and feeding have on the overall patients’ health and quality of life, it is essential that healthcare professionals acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to master the evaluation and treatment of these disorders.

The academic organization has embraced the need to train experts from different fields on this science by creating specific masters with theoretical and practical training that enable learners to gain specialized knowledge and skills crucial to the management of the dysphagic patients. 

As the father of Italian Deglutology, Professor Oskar Schindler, wrote: “The speech therapist has contributed scientifically and professionally to the development of this branch”. 

The speech therapist is a healthcare and rehabilitation professional who received basic training in this area during his university studies. He plays an important role in the evaluation, rehabilitation and management of nutritional and deglutition disorders in an interdisciplinary team with other specialists in the field. Logopedic intervention in the treatment of eating and swallowing disorders is increasingly specialized, diversified and individualized, and varies not only according to age but also according to the patient’s pre-existing pathology. 

It is also worth mentioning the didactic role of the speech therapist, both as a teacher and as a traineeship tutor in Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees, as well as in Continuing Education Programs. The goal of speech therapy education is to promote knowledge and skills in eating and swallowing disorders by transferring not only academic concepts but also the experience of daily clinical practice. 

When dealing with pediatric eating disorders, feeding and swallowing problems can result from a variety of structural and functional diseases that can affect both normotypic and developmentally disabled children. The treatment of this patient population is carried out by an interdisciplinary approach that takes into account medical and cardiovascular status, nutritional status, neurological function, postural stability and control, gastrointestinal function, and any anatomic disorders of the aerodigestive tract. 

The speech therapist performs evaluations of eating and swallowing activities, indicates appropriate nutrition strategies and equipment supporting the long-term feeding development with a safe and effective meal plan. In summary, the speech therapist plays a fundamental role in the evaluation and management of patients with eating and swallowing disorders. Through different assessment and treatment approaches, his expertise helps in providing guidelines for well-rounded interdisciplinary plans that support a successful oral feeding and an overall improved quality of life for the child and his family. 

A training based on both academic knowledge and fieldwork is essential for taking care of patients in an ethical, scientific, and professional way.

Antonella Cerchiari teaches “Logopedic treatment of childhood dysphagia” for the 1st level On-line Master in Deglutology and Related Disorders at UniCamillus.For about 25 years, she has been working as a speech therapist with a background in the evaluation and rehabilitation of eating and swallowing disorders in adults, but especially in infants and children. Specifically, she contributed to the growth of the health branch of deglutology in Italy, directly experiencing the constant increase in the number of patients and the correlated the need for healthcare facilities to provide a prompter and more adequate service.