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Many children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and sensory processing disorder (SPD) have an oral fixation. Many times, this results in chewing on clothing and random objects. For Bean, when her anxiety kicks in she chews on her shirt. This causes her shirts to be soaked in saliva, and can be embarrassing for her at times. So, what can you do for your child who has autism and oral fixation?
Autism and Oral fixation
Understanding why they need to chew:
The need to chew for many autistic children (and adults) comes from sources such as anxiety, being overstimulated, or even bored. I have a horrible need to chew, even still as an adult. Any time I am overly focused, there is typically something in my mouth. Most times, I do not realize I am chewing until little man says, “get that out of your mouth,” lol. As for many people with Autism and SPD, the need for oral stimulation is completely involuntary.
Though the having an oral fixation is just a part of who we are, it actually comes as a self-soothing behavior. The heavy input given by chewing on things helps to calm our overstimulated nervous system. When properly directed, it can be a great resource.
When Oral Stimming causes an issue:
Though many times oral stimming can be a good thing, sometimes it can cause a problem. Some children with autism and oral fixation wind up chewing on items that are not safe. This can be small items that they could choke on, clothing like Bean does, shoes, rocks, pencils and such.
With my need to chew, I always seem to wind up chewing on pens and pencils. Pencils as a child were a problem because the erasers would come off and I did choke on a few. Pens are still my problem, as I have actually broken a tooth chewing on a pen. Okay, honesty, I have broken the same tooth three times and it drives my dentist crazy!
Besides the obvious of dangers, oral fixations can cause some unwanted embarrassment. When bean chews on her clothes, she is stuck at school with a wet shirt. She doesn’t often get embarrassed, but sometimes other children will point it out and she becomes self-conscious. When she is in a full meltdown, she will actually chew on both hands at once which cause a ton of droll!
Redirecting to a safe stimming option:
For both our sake, we have to learn how to redirect our need for oral stimulation to appropriate items. Working with our occupational therapists, we have been working with a sensory diet for both of us as well as little man.
There are several options you can use for a sensory diet for oral comforts. These can be:
- Chewing Gum
- Sucking thick liquid through a straw
- Using age appropriate “chewy” (like Chewigem)
Finding an age appropriate “Chewy”
While designing Bean’s sensory diet, I immediately pictured her walking around with a baby’s chew toy. Where this would have given her a safe outlet to chew, it would have been more embarrassing than her wet shirt already is. I knew there had to be another option out there, but wasn’t quite sure what.
As I have gotten older, I have learned to accept that things happen for a reason and God has a plan for everything. Right after designing her sensory diet, I received an email from Chewigem about testing their products out. I had never heard of them, but quickly fell in love with the concept. We quickly agreed and let Bean pick out her own Chewigem to try out.
To sum up the hour-long conversation of Bean’s review, she loves it! Chewigem has been a game changer for us and all her therapists have fallen in love with her Chewigem too!
What is ChewiGem?
Each item made by Chewigem is made with silicone that the is lead, latex, BPA, PVC and phthalate free, as well as FDA approved. Even the cords for the necklaces are nontoxic and made with a snap clasp so they come off easily with just a pull.
There are a ton of different designs. Bean choose the Whirlpool disc pendant for heavy chewers. She loved the way it looked, that it matched a ton of her out fits. I plan on getting one of the ones made for moderate chewers soon as well for her. I want to get myself one here soon too, the dog tag necklaces are just so cute!
Autism and Oral fixation
When your child has SPD or Autism and oral fixation, you have to ultimately find what works best for your child. What works for one child, may not work for the next. Take your time, trying out one option a time. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, then don’t stress out over it. Just move on to the next option until you find what works best for your child’s oral fixation.
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Alicia Trautwein is an autism parenting coach living in Missouri. She is the creator behind The Mom Kind, a website dedicated to parenting neurodiverse families. She is one of the head creators behind the #WeLoeveMoms campaign and is also featured in the “Amazing Moms” coffee table book by Hogan Hilling & Dr. Elise Ho. She shares her expertise along with her experience in parenting children, both with and without autism.