Oral Motor Intervention

Little girl with lollipop
What is the suck/swallow/breath synchrony?

The action pattern called the suck/ swallow/ breath synchrony coordinates sucking, swallowing, and breathing which helps us eat and breath without choking. This action pattern develops even before birth so that newborns can begin eating right after birth. In addition, it has been discovered that the suck/ swallow/ breath (SSB) synchrony influences many areas of development. By correcting any problems with the SSB synchrony, we can help children reach progress toward normal development.

People of all ages often unknowingly use their mouth in ways to support their needs and keep their body comfortable. While performing tasks that require focus, such as using scissors, individuals may place their tongues on the sides of their mouths as a way to stabilize body posture. As another example, others may chew on straws while reading with concentrated effort. Some people also hold their breath when lifting a heavy object or take a deep breath when they get frustrated. All of these behaviors are natural and help us complete many tasks; they are also available to us because of a properly developed SSB synchrony.

There is a difference between how infants or children and adults use the SSB strategies. Infants, for example, suck on a pacifier when upset to reorganize themselves, focus their attention, or interact with the surroundings. Adults, on the other hand, take deep breaths, chew on gum, pens, or fingers, etc. to achieve a similar type of reorganization. For babies, sucking from the breast or bottle results in handling semisolid food, chewing solid foods, exploring with the mouth, crying, babbling, etc. Using the SSB synchrony, makes the muscles used stronger, more refined, and contributes to more new skills. The SSB muscles are also involved in holding up the head, helping the eyes work together, and in maintaining the health and function of the eyes, ears, and respiratory system. Therefore, the SSB synchrony is essential in the developmental process.

A weakness in the synchrony can greatly affect a child’s development. When typical developmental patterns fail to unfold, children may rely on behaviors such as sucking on fingers, mouthing objects, biting, tongue clucking, crying, and babbling longer than usual and/or require greater intensity to achieve calming, focus, posture, etc. The following behaviors are associated with developmental problems. Most of these behaviors, if seen separately would not be a problem but if there is a combination of several of them, or a cluster, there is cause for concern.

Atypical Development – Indications for Concern

  • Trouble learning to suck
  • Trouble chewing & swallowing
  • Frequently drools
  • Infrequently mouths toys
  • Inadequate weight gain
  • Intense preference for certain tastes or temperatures
  • Persistent gagging & choking
  • Aspirates frequently
  • Bites or chews on self, other, or objects
  • Conflict with new foods
  • Trouble maintaining a seal/vacuum (when sucking)
  • Intense preference for certain kind of nipple or pacifier