Some children with autism like to chew on clothes, paper or anything that they can get their hands on easily. Does your child do that? Here’s more about why children with autism chew excessively and what you can do about it.
Children with autism have difficulty in regulating their sensory experiences. They can have hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to various sensations. Excessive chewing is an example of sensory hyposensitivity. These children chew, not because they want to destroy clothing, or other objects, but because they may like or need the sensation that they get by chewing. Thus, when we try to help a child with this problem, we need to tackle the root of the problem, which is sensory in nature.
Changing the Object they chew:
This is the simplest way to tackle this problem, and maybe even the best way to start working on this issue, is replacing valuable objects with a chewing toy. Chew necklaces are great for children who chew on their clothes. Chewy toys give children the sensory experience they require, and thus they automatically stop chewing on other things like good books, and clothes. Here are some examples of chewy toys.
Chewy candy, or chewing gum can be used, but both need to be used with caution as too much candy can cause tooth decay, and chewing gum can be a mess.
Oral Stimulation refers to different techniques to stimulate different parts of the mouth. These exercises also provide stimulation to the mouth, and may decrease the need for the child to chew. Oral stimulation can be done by a trained therapist, or it can be done in the form of activities with the child. Some activities that can provide oral stimulation are:
- Sucking liquids through a straw
- Blowing balloons
- Blowing bubbles
- Filling up the mouth with air ( Puffing up cheeks)
- Touching teeth with the tip of the tongue and going from one end to another.
- Making different types of sounds and noises
- Pulling cheeks apart in front of the mirror and making faces
Taking short breaks from Chewing:
Once you are able to change the object that the child chews on, and help them to get sensory experiences from other oral activities than chewing, the child may be ready to take short breaks from chewing. Do this, by allowing the child to participate in an activity that they love (Like swinging on a swing) , but on the condition that they leave their chewing object with you while doing the activity. Initially, keep the breaks short, so that the child knows that when he is done with the activity, he will get his chewing object back. Slowly, change the activity and give some other reward at the end of it, for example if you do the activity in this workbox, you can swing after that, and then get your chewing object. In this way, slowly increase the time that the child spends without chewing.
Chewing in Private:
As your child becomes older and chewing decreases, you will need to teach your child that they can engage in chewing, but not in public. Keep chewing objects in the bathroom, and allow your child to go there and use them for a few minutes every hour or so. Slowly decrease this time. You can also encourage the child to use other oral stimulation techniques that are socially acceptable like drinking cold water and moving the water around the mouth, chewing gum etc.
Get your child involved in activities that require them to use their mouth:
This technique works similar to distraction. Get your child to do something else with their mouth, preventing them from chewing. Reward the child for engaging in this activity, encourage them, and praise them for the activity. You don’t even need to bring up the issue of chewing. Some activities you can introduce in this situation are:
- Reading aloud
- Playing a mouth organ
- Playing flute
- Blow painting
- Painting with a paintbrush in the mouth
Allow your child to chew for short periods of time, and follow it with learning activities:
This is a technique to improve attention and concentration for learning tasks. Give your child a few minutes to chew on their toy and then work with your child for 15-30 minutes. You will find that your child learns better at that time compared to other times.
Hope these ideas can help you to decrease chewing in your child with autism. Do you have any ideas of your own? Do let me know.