Both my littles are chewers.
I’m not talking gum chewers or open mouth at the dinner table chewers.
What we are dealing with is not a manners issue, but rather a sensory issue. Although these are many theories as to the cause of Sensory Processing Disorders…some say genetics, some say environment, while some seem to feel the cause is unknown, it can be a common issue in children like my adopted boys who have experienced things like exposure to drugs in utero, early childhood neglect, and abuse.
There are two types of oral sensitivities when talking about children with sensory processing disorders: hypersensitive and hyposensitive. Boy my boys are hyposensitive, which means they crave oral stimulation.
Both my boys tend to use their mouths to assess and process the world around them.
For Ozzie it means licking things that he shouldn’t lick like toys and furniture. He uses his tongue as another means of gathering information about the world much like a baby will put things in their mouths. He chews on anything he can get ahold of, shredding clothes to chew on the strings, plastic wrappers, hard plastic, his own arms, and balloons. He doesn’t swallow or eat these items just merely chews on them. It was when I found him sneaking and chewing on balloons that I became concerned for fear he would accidently swallow a piece of balloon and it would block his airway resulting in death.
Tyler is also a chewer but his chewing is focused solely on his clothing. He chews through every shirt he puts on, which drives me crazy because I am constantly having to buy new shirts to replace the ones that have big holes all along the collars. He also is constantly stimulating his mouth by buzzing his lips and making noises with his mouth. When the big kids are driven to the point of insanity by the clicking and buzzing, and finally ask him to stop, he always seems surprised, not realizing he was even making noises.
Both boys like to fill their mouths with food seeking the sensation of a stuffed mouth, suck on vibrating electric toothbrushes, and stimulate their mouths with sour flavors and foods that crunch.
This need to self stimulate led me to start researching Oral SPD and therapeutic ways to address it. Here is some of what I found out:
“Children With Hyposensitivities Will Exhibit Many, Or All, Of The Following Characteristics:
- they love and crave intense flavors, i.e., sweet, sour, salty, spicy and usually become “condiment kids”
- may actually avoid mixed textures as well since it is difficult to chew and swallow properly when you can’t “feel” the food in your mouth correctly
- they are the messy eaters; getting food all over their face and/or leaving bits of food in their mouths at the end of a meal
- they often take large bites and stuff their mouths, or even “pocket” food in their cheeks
- are inclined to not chew their food thoroughly before swallowing (at risk for choking)
- drool excessively beyond the teething stage
- and , they always seem to have something in their mouths; toys, pens, pencil tips, gum, candy, or inedible objects (i.e., paper clips, rubber bands, shirt sleeves and collars, strings…anything!)
When working with these hyposensitive children, you need to:
Give them MORE oral stimulation activities and “appropriate” things to chew on; they will need to chew to feel calm and organize-
- Chewy Tubes – Chewy tubes help children to keep from chewing on their hands and crayons and and help them focus and for practicing biting and chewing skills.
- give them sensory stimulation activities prior to meals to “wake up” their mouths
- use oral massagers, vibration, and textured materials/objects for stimulation
- use a combination of relaxing input (deep pressure, firm touch) and stimulating input (light, quick strokes)
- choose foods with increased texture, flavor, and temperatures to provide more stimulation
- encourage the child to take different sized bites and have them “feel” the food in their mouth (if old enough have them close their eyes and play guessing games with the food)
- wash and wipe the child’s face often during eating with different textured materials (i.e., baby washcloth, napkin, regular washcloth, paper towel with texture to it)
- use the following order for stimulation; start on face with cheeks, jaw, lips, then teeth/gums, inside cheeks, then tip, middle, and sides of tongue, then the roof of the mouth”
I was looking for a safe, less destructive outlet for their need to chew (because I truly believe it is a needed outlet and not a bad habit that needs to be untrained.) I found chew stick necklaces on Amazon. These therapeutic tools are made of tough rubber (think indestructible Kong toys for dogs) are made for children much like my boys. They are designed for SPD kids, autistic children and even kids with ADHD (like fidget toys for your mouth.)
I bought each boy one in a different color so that we could keep them straight. They are cute to look at with their brightly colored Lego brick shape. We bought ARK’s Brick Stick™ Textured Chew Necklace brand. Both boys put them on in the morning when they get dressed and use them all day long. It has been an AWESOME tool for both of them and has served the purpose I was hoping for.
If you have a chewer at home I highly recommend these life savers!