Thursday, September 14, 2017

Therapy Tip: Alternatives to Sippy Cups

It's therapy Thursday! Hooray!
This is the day that I share a tip based upon my experiences as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a parent of a child with a disability. Today's tip is:

Alternatives to Sippy Cups

After bottles, most parents offer their child sippy cups. Sippy cups are often a favored choice by parents for many reasons with the main one being that they avoid spills and leaks. But, they aren't favored by specialists like me.

But, hang on! I am a realist. I understand that sippy cups have their uses. For a child who is traveling or tends to throw things, a sippy cup is helpful. I'm not a total anti-sippy cup person, but there's something you need to know about these handy cups.

Sippy cups are not always the best for babies and toddlers who are already in speech therapy or have delays in development. When a baby is drinking from a bottle, the baby uses a suckle-swallow pattern to drink. The tongue is kept in a forward, low position to drink. A sippy cup essentially follows that same pattern. It encourages the tongue to stay in a low, forward position.

For children with low muscle tone or diagnoses such as Down syndrome, the sippy cup encourages the very thing (tongue forward position) that speech-language pathologist often are trying to discourage.

For these reasons, many therapists will offer alternatives to sippy cups. These alternatives do a few things. They encourage the toddler's tongue to retract and have more elevated movements.

A straw cup or an ordinary open cup are ideal alternatives to sippy cups that are easily found. Not every child has the motor abilities to drink from a straw or an open cup successfully. Therefore, I'm going to share some cups I have used with toddlers in my therapy practice. Below are cups that I have personally used. These cups are temporary tools to teach straw or open cup drinking. These are generally not needed long term because they are used simply to teach the drinking method to the small child. Some children work with one of these cups for a few weeks before moving on while others need more time to learn where their lips and tongue should go to drink successfully.

Reflo Cup
I found this cup this year and have started trialing it with some of the children I see in therapy. I really like this product! The cup basically has this special valve inserted inside their otherwise open cup. It slows the rate of which the water comes out of the cup. This is a great way to teach open cup drinking while the child learns how to tip a regular open cup and control the water flow rate. The top of the cup is just like an ordinary cup, which requires lip closure and tongue retraction in order to be successful.

The Honey Bear
The Honey Bear has become a staple item in my therapy practice. This is the cup I use to teach a child to drink from a straw when a child has absolutely no concept of straw drinking. I can gently squeeze this cup to assist in bringing the liquid up and in the child's mouth. You can achieve a similar effect using a standard juice box. However if a thin liquid comes out to quickly, I can put applesauce in the honey bear cup in order to teach the child to straw drink. I have used the Honey Bear multiple times to help children learn to straw drink.

Infa Trainer Cup
This cup is similar to the Reflo cup but with some differences. It slows the liquid before it comes out so that it can more easily by managed by toddlers learning to drink. By simply twisting the lid, the flow rate can be changed to a higher or lower rate. There are three flow rates to choose from. This does have a spill resistant design, so that is a plus with this cup. The children I have worked with generally have more trouble learning open cup drinking with this cup because of the spouted opening, but I still think it's a good option for some.

Recessed Lid Cup
This cup has a very simple design. The lid of the cup is, as it's name suggests, recessed. Therefore, this cup can be used for open cup training, but it can also accommodate a straw too. I like this cup because the lid is recessed, which makes the lips close on the cup as if it were a regular open cup. The flow rate is reduced by the small holes in the lid. This cup also provides handles, which is more helpful for some children. This can be another great option for children who need the water to flow out of the cup more slowly to open cup drink.

There are many widely available alternatives to sippy cups. When a child just can't simply do a straw cup or an open cup, these are some great options for training. Determining which cup is more appropriate requires one to look at what is hindering the child's progress. Your child's therapist should be able to help guide you through this process if you have trouble deciding which one to try. One of these cups could be a key to your child's progress, so don't be afraid to give one a try.

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended as therapeutic advice. Please consult your child's speech-language pathologist if you want specifics on how to use these cups. 

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