You may notice that your child is biting his or her nails, sleeves, pencils, or other non-food objects. This behavior may not be because your child wants to chew, but rather, their bodies are signaling to them that they need to chew. This internal need to chew is their body wanting more oral sensory input, which the jaw receives from chewing. This sensation in known as proprioceptive input, or deep pressure. Proprioceptive input helps organize behavior and increase attention. So in other words, when you see your child chewing on non-food items, they may be experiencing an environmental overload of sensations and trying to use proprioceptive input to self-soothe.
You shouldn’t control or try to stop your child from chewing, but rather, work with your therapist to determine alternative and appropriate solutions to your child’s hyposensitivity. There are strategies and tools that can be used to give your child that extra oral sensory input in order to help them focus in the classroom and also emotionally regulate. Many strategies that can be used, are simple but effective.
Drinking from a water bottle with a straw or an opening that requires sucking. Proprioceptive input can be acquired from jaw movements used when sucking. Proprioceptive input can be calming and help with attention and behavior:
Try to keep gum and chewy candy readily available. Some schools don’t allow gum in the classroom, however work with your occupational therapist to help establish a sensory plan if your child has a 504 plan:
Have an electric toothbrush lying around? Use it as a resource for your child to use! The vibrations from the toothbrush encourage children to manipulate the device with their tongue, lips, and jaw, which awakens the sensory receptors in their mouth. The vibrations from the toothbrush offer up a calming sensation and stress reliever:
Incorporate toys that require oral motor movements into your child’s play bin. This could be bubbles, balloons, whistles, instruments:
Your child may also benefit from breathing strategies. Infinity breathing is teaching your child how to visualize an infinity symbol and inhale as they move over one half of the symbol and exhale as they follow the other half. This strategy helps teach smooth and even breathing cycles while also incorporating oral motor movements:
Chewlery is another strategy that can be beneficial to utilize for the school setting. It’s a subtle way for your child to seek out his or her sensory input and promote attention and focus within the classroom. They can help with ADHD, anxiety, stress, and stop oral fixations. They are made with 100% food grade silicon, and offer many different designs for all genders:
Chewable pencil toppers can be substituted for Chewlery if your child doesn’t like items around their neck or just prefers this option instead:
ARK’s Z-Vibe is a vibrating oral motor tool that can be bought and used for sensory stimulation. The sensations that the Z-Vibe produces wakes up the mouth, which in turn decreases oral defensiveness. It can also be used as a calming mechanism allowing the body to self-organize, concentrate, and increase sustained attention. This product comes in several different forms, and offers many different attachments to help you and your therapist work together to build the perfect product for your child:
Work with your occupational therapist to determine which oral motor tools and activities would work best for your child! There are several hyperlinks in this blog post, but here are two websites you may find helpful to start browsing through: