It is easy to minimize the impact of some of the more basic patterns of behavior, particularly with autistic children. However, as we have more accurately come to understand neurological issues that are glaringly apparent in these children, we are beginning to acknowledge that some of the rules like “no chewing gum in school” may not be a good idea for these children…especially when considering the biology of chewing.
Chewing interventions and behavior
Sensory processing disorder is a condition often linked to autism, ADHD, and other special needs. The term refers to the difficulty in taking and understanding sensory information from outside stimuli. Some children might feel over or under stimulated. Children with autism might chew because they like the sensation they get from the behavior.
Many parents of children with sensory issues are concerned about the constant chewing because it tears up clothing and other objects, and chewing certain objects can cause tooth or health problems.
One of the first things to do is to give your child something else to chew. Chewy tubes and other toys designed for child chewing (not teething toys or those designed for infants) provide your child with the sensory input they want but prevents them from chewing things you don’t want them to. Some parents choose to give their children mints or gum, but too much sugar can further tooth decay, and gum can be messy.
A method to prevent chewing is to give your child oral stimulation that does not involve chewing but still gives oral sensations.
Blowing through a straw, blowing bubbles, making noises, and making faces in a mirror are examples of oral activities. Encourage other activities that require the use of the mouth but cannot be done at the same time as chewing; such activities include singing, talking, reading a book out loud, or painting with a paintbrush in the mouth.
Encourage your child to gradually participate in activities other than chewing. Take a short “break” from chewing by allowing your child to engage in another activity he likes, such as swinging. Make sure your child knows he cannot use his chew toy during the swinging activity, but he will get the toy back at the end of the swinging time. This trick will prevent a tantrum, but you can also gradually increase the amount of time your child goes without his chew toy.
As a child gets older, finding discreet chew toys might be necessary. Chew necklaces are popular alternatives to chewy tubes that are more age appropriate and discreet.
Concerned about chewing noises?
So for those parents and professionals who are concerned about chewing noises, it may be helpful to think about giving children a way to chew appropriately, which will in turn, help them become much more cognitive and able to be calmed by chewing.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network