Why am I so excited about a cup? In my never-ending quest to find alternatives to expensive therapy tools I happened upon this great cup by Playtex (Thanks Jen!). It’s the Playtex Lil’ Gripper Spoutless cup. I’ve tried it out over the last week with my patients 7 months to 3 years with Down syndrome and it’s great! Compared to the infatrainer cup that costs any where from $10.50 – 16+ dollars (without shipping) the Lil’ Gripper is about $4. I think that’s a deal. It meets my criteria – functional, therapeutic, and cost-effective.
- After purchase, remove the valve and put in it a safe place.
- Wash and dry. Don’t put the valve in.
- Fill with a liquid your child enjoys and is able to drink (e.g. formula, milk, apple juice, etc.). Initially a slightly thicker consistency like a yogurt beverage or apricot nectar juice may help the child learning to drink from a cup. It will be easier for you to control the flow. Thicker liquids don’t move as quickly in the mouth; therefore, the inside of the mouth has prolonged contact with the liquid. This in turn increases the child’s awareness of the liquid (more sensation) and gives them slightly more time to coordinate and perform a swallow.
- If your child is old enough to hold hand the cup to them. Your child may need you to provide chin support they are first learning to drink. To provide support place your fingers under his chin and thumb resting one the upper cheek (where the upper and lower jaw meet).
- To pace the liquids correctly first make sure your child’s lower lip maintains constant contact with the rim of the cup. Tip up for sipping and down when they take a pause. This helps them establish the an appropriate drink-pause rhythm needed for successful cup drinking.
What should I expect when first introducing a cup to my child with Down syndrome?
First, remember to pace yourself. Your child may or may not require extra support learning to drink depending on a number of factors including tone, coordination, sensory needs, and developmental readiness for cup drinking. I advise my families to start practicing with an open cup between 6-9 months of age. This is around the time the child has developed head and trunk control for sitting. Then I encourage my from 12-18 months of age actively work on phasing out the bottle.
When your child first learns to drink from a cup liquid loss is expected. Chewing on the rim or an open/closed rhythm to the mouth is observed. This is because the child has not yet mastered jaw stability. Switching to a cup requires a child to learn and use a new pattern for drinking. They change from the up-down movement and lip seal used with the breast or bottle to in-out tongue movements with minimal lip closure. One sign your child is ready to drink from a cup is based on his feeding skills. Is he able to take bites off a whole cracker? Do they bite through and chew smaller pieces of a whole cookie? The ability to hold the mouth in open and closed positions is a necessary first-step in cup drinking.
So what about the valve?
Oh, I just knew you’d ask. Once your child has mastered drinking from the cup you can put it back in (audible gasps from therapists everywhere). I am a realist and very practical when it comes to therapy. Practice at home without the valve. This allows your child become independent controlling flow and to develop sipping skills. With the valve in they’re continuing the old pattern of sucking used with a nipple.
We (therapists) want to advance skills to a more mature pattern of swallowing. This is why sippy cups and valves are considered taboo. They can prolong the nipple-like swallow patterns we’re trying to diminish. But…if you’re going for a drive in the car…well, you can make your own decision!
Enjoy this cup – the more practice the better your child will become at drinking. Just think – when he’s six and playing at a friend’s house you don’t want to send him with an infatrainer or sippy cup. Practice with a cup like this one and a regular, old plastic cup will be just fine.