My daughter's speech therapist suggested we have my daughter sip thick liquids (i.e. yogurt, chocolate pudding, etc.) through a straw to work on strengthening mouth muscles. I have not been able to find straws thick enough to work. Do you have a suggestion?
Drinking out of a straw (any straw) in general is a great way to help individuals learn how to keep the lips closed, how to keep the tongue inside the mouth, how to improve cheek strength, etc. Drinking thick liquids up through a straw will definitely make the mouth work harder, but I think you're right - it may be too difficult for your child to drink pudding or yogurt through a regular straw. Personally, I have found that straws from McDonald's have a large circumference, and they may just do the trick for this activity. You may also be able to find straws in Target or Wal-Mart with a wider circumference to accommodate thicker drinks. .
Since it's a goal for your daughter to work on strengthening her mouth muscles, I would also like to suggest our Lip Bloks (pictured above). Lip Bloks are essentially mouthpieces that can be inserted into the top of most standard drinking straws. They come in 3 different sizes: ¾ inch, ½ inch, and ¼ inch. You start with the longest (¾") size, and then as soon as it becomes easy for your daughter to use that length, you'll progress to the next length level (½"). When this becomes effortless, you progress to the final ¼” level. The orange and purple Lip Bloks shown above are made out of a flexible material so that you can cut the stem to any custom length, or slowly cut it shorter over time.
The time frame between levels can really vary from person to person, from one week to months or longer in between. As one example, one of the children on my caseload is non-verbal, has sensory issues, Autism, and cannot close his lips due the position of his teeth. I've used a Lip Blok with him for 8 weeks so far, and the change has been incredible. His tongue is now closer to being inside his mouth, he no longer makes a suckling noise when he drinks through a straw, and he can now maintain lip closure. Lip Bloks can achieve all of this by working the mouth muscles naturally.
For more oral motor exercise ideas, click here.
Debra C. Lowsky, MS, CCC-SLP