The Problems with Sippy Cups and Autism | Effects of Sippy Cups and Development

Did you know that spill proof sippy cups can be detrimental to your child or client’s development? I’m talking about the problems with sippy cups and autism today, and why not to use sippy cups.

problems with sippy cups and autism

Hi, I’m Doctor Mary Barbera, autism mom, board certified behavior analyst and best-selling author. I remember when my son Lucas was about four years old and an SLP by the name of Joanne Gerenser was speaking in my local town for the autism society and I was taking her out to dinner.

But before I took her out to dinner the night before she spoke, I brought her to my house to do kind of a drive-by eyeball of Lucas and she just stayed for a few minutes in my home and observed him in the basement. And the only thing I remember Joanne Gerenser saying was to get rid of Lucas’ sippy cup. And I was kind of shocked. I never thought about it before.

What are the effects of sippy cups and development in children?

What I learned from Joanne is that spill-proof sippy cups in general were no better than drinking from a baby bottle, and they put Lucas’ lips in an unnatural position and affected articulation. She added that since these cups have spill-proof valves in them, it makes it really unnatural, the way he would have to suck. It’s not like sucking through a straw, which is actually good for kids.

This was brand new information for me, so we went cold turkey and switched him away from a spill-proof sippy cup into a straw cup. Many children, especially those with autism, frequently use spill-proof sippy cups because they tend to be messy and even typically developing kids use spill-proof cups for many years past when they should be.

Many parents and teachers aren’t even aware of any issues with sippy cups, like I wasn’t, but like Joanne told me, sippy cups for toddlers and older children are bad because they hamper articulation and they can also increase problem behaviors for items if they insist on using these certain cups and having access to these cups throughout the day whenever they want.

Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!
GET YOUR FREE 3-STEP GUIDE TO TURN THINGS AROUND TODAY!

Also, drinking anything except water throughout the day will almost always affect mealtime behavior. Basically if the child fills up on milk or juice, he’s going to be less accepting of nutritious food at the table. So getting your child to drink out of regular open cups and sport water bottles and using straws is really what we need to focus on. And for some kids this needs to be a gradual process of weaning away from a sippy cup or for weaning away from having juice or milk throughout the day, but in other cases it will just involve going cold turkey and presenting them with a straw cup or an open cup.

You can occasionally, if you’re traveling or only in cars, use spill-proof sippy cups and you do want to take care of your home and the rugs and the sofas and all that stuff, but really children should not be just drinking, especially anything other than water throughout the day.

I also think spill-proof sippy cups and this unnatural movement with their mouths can affect not only articulation but talking in general. So we do want to make sure that we’re focusing on not only can a child talk or not, but are they using sippy cups? Are they using pacifiers or bottles and what are they eating? And all those kinds of thing, because these sucking and feeding issues have a lot to do, I think, with vocal language as well.

You can occasionally, if you’re traveling or only in cars, use spill-proof sippy cups and you do want to take care of your home and the rugs and the sofas and all that stuff, but really children should not be just drinking, especially anything other than water throughout the day.

I also think spill-proof sippy cups and this unnatural movement with their mouths can affect not only articulation but talking in general. So we do want to make sure that we’re focusing on not only can a child talk or not, but are they using sippy cups? Are they using pacifiers or bottles and what are they eating? And all those kinds of thing, because these sucking and feeding issues have a lot to do, I think, with vocal language as well.

Ready to learn more and turn things around for your child or client with autism? Sign up for my free 3-step guide!
GET YOUR FREE 3-STEP GUIDE TO TURN THINGS AROUND TODAY!

When to stop using sippy cups?

So what can you do today if your child or clients are using sippy cups? You want to assess. You want to assess are they using them all day long? Are they just using them during car rides or at church or some special occasions? Then after you asses how bad the situation is and if they’re insistent on one or two cups, then you really want to make a plan with boundaries to wean based on that assessment.

So you could decide like, “Okay, from now on, I’m only going to give a sippy cup when we go in the car. Or I’m only going to give a sippy cup at bedtime or something like that.” And then the rest of the time, you’d want the child to be sitting at a table during meals. If your child likes or has more than one sippy cup that they love, you may want to hide or dispose of all the others so they can’t stash them away or accidentally find one during non-sippy cup times.

While your child or client probably will not understand a complex plan, even infants will respond to reinforcement and other behavioral procedures. And at the very minimum, children should not have free access to spill-proof sippy cups or anything except for water at any time they want during the day or night. So they need help with boundaries and you can help them with that.

So to summarize, spill-proof sippy cups are not recommended for children and just like any behavior you want to change, you’ll need to start with an assessment and make a plan. For more information about this, you can download my free guide at marybarbera.com/join to start today. I will see you next week.