Strategies for Children that Need to Chew
Have you ever craved crunchy or chewy foods? Have you ever bitten your nails or your pen cap when you are nervous? Everyone has oral sensory habits that they engage in to help them regulate throughout the day. For children with sensory processing deficits or Autism, chewing can be an extremely important sensory strategy to help focus and self-regulate while interacting in a multi-sensory environment. Below are several strategies that you can explore if your child is in need of oral-sensory motor input.
- Get to the bottom of why
- Children “chew” for many reasons: boredom, stress, anxiety, craving the act of chewing, reduce teething pain, help increase concentration and attention, and to help block out distractions when focusing.
- Don’t force them to stop
- Consistently chewing and mouthing non-food items is sensory based and provides input your child needs to regulate their nervous system.
- Encourage chewing on safe, germ free toys that will provide the oral sensory input they crave.
- Give them a safe alternative
- Chewelry, Y-Tubes, pencil toppers, bracelets, and Grabbers are a few of the most popular chew toys and vary by age and type of “chewer” your child is.
- Try putting chews in the freezer, warm water, or dipping in a variety of food textures for additional sensory input.
- How to successfully transition to chew toy from inappropriate items
- Be very consistent and patient, and get everyone that interacts with your child involved (teachers, grandparents, daycare providers, ect).
- Practice in the mirror for visual input.
- Quickly replace inappropriate items with safe oral sensory chew, repeating until your child independently chooses the chew.
- Reward your child every time they use the chew.
- Implement an Oral Motor Protocol
- Ad oral motor activities into your child’s daily routine to provide their mouth with the feedback needed, such as: tough or hard to eat foods, gum massages, blow through straws or whistles, blow bubbles through straws, drink thickened liquids through a straw, blow cotton balls across a table, and a vibrating toothbrush or Z-Vibe.
- Always supervise children with an excessive need for chewing for safety reasons.
Make sure to consult a therapist trained in sensory processing disorders to determine what type of sensory chew and sensory strategies would be best for your child.