Oral Sensitivities: Why My Child Chews on Pencils and Sucks on Clothing
This post contains information regarding oral sensitivities and oral defensiveness. Affiliate links are included for your convenience. Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS) is a learning and academic center. As a reminder, ILS is not a health care provider and none of our materials or services provide a diagnosis or treatment of a specific condition or learning challenge you may see in your child or student. If you seek a diagnosis or treatment for your child or student, please contact a trained professional who can provide an evaluation of the child.
When my son was younger, Sensory Processing and Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) were almost unheard of so when he would come home with chewed up pencils, and when he sucked and chewed on his action figures or wore out his straws at restaurants, I never gave it a second thought. Now as I’m rummaging through his old toys for my grandkids, I’m finding teeth marks on his old pirates and knights. I wish I knew back then what I know now about oral defensiveness and how children with sensory issues often have oral sensitivities and fixations.
If you have a child who is constantly sucking on their shirts or clothing, chews on their pencils at school, enjoys extreme flavors of foods, or is constantly chewing on their toys, it could be a sign that their sensory receptors are in need of that tactile sensation in their mouth and are using it as a defense mechanism. Depending on your child, the sensory receptors in their mouth can either be hypersensitive (too sensitive) to textures and foods or they can be hyposensitive (needs more tactile sensations).
If your child struggles with eating certain foods at family gatherings or tends to gag when eating, it could be a sign of oral sensitivities that their sensory receptors are sensitive to different textures. Here are some signs you may see if your child has oral hypersensitivities:
- Avoids certain textures of foods
- Is a “picky eater” even as they get older
- Dislikes having their teeth brushed
- Avoids putting their lips on forks and spoons
- Can’t swallow food easily or gags at the table
- Doesn’t like strong flavors (sweet or sour)
If your child has the opposite problem and chews or sucks on anything and everything, this could be a sign that they need more oral stimulation to prevent fidgeting and improve attention and focus in the classroom. Here are some signs you may see if your child has oral hyposensitivities:
- Chews on pencils and toys
- Sucks on shirts or sleeves
- Likes extreme food flavors (sweet, salty, spicy, sour)
- Swallows their food whole or takes large bites of food at a time
- Enjoys an electric toothbrush
As we talk more in-depth about oral sensitivities in future articles, it’s important to remember children with oral fixations that have hypersensitive or hyposensitive mouths, may need certain accommodations to help them function at home, at school and in social settings. This may mean sending your child to school with chewable toys or bringing special food items to family parties that your child will eat.
If your child has oral sensitivities to foods and if mealtime can be a nightmare, read “7 Meal-time Tricks to Avoid Sensory Meltdowns.” You can also get a better understanding of what oral sensory processing means from our friends at The Inspired Treehouse and Lemon Lime Adventures.
Oral Sensory Integration
For children who need constant sensory stimulation for their oral receptors, try simple toys and activities to help “awaken” their mouths with sensory integration.
If your child is distracted in the classroom and is always fidgeting or can’t stay seated in their chair, it could partly be caused by their need for sensory stimulation. Try sending them to school with different toys or objects they can chew or suck on to help those oral receptors calm down for better learning in the classroom. Here are some of our favorites:
- Chewy Tubes
- Raindrop Rainforest Necklace
- Chewy Pencil Toppers
- Chewable Gem Necklace
- Chewable Bracelets
- Soothasaurus Rubber Dinosaur
- Sensory Stixx
- GoGoChews Chewable Pencil Toppers
- Tactile Chewable Armband
Oral Receptor Activities
Chewable toys are great for improving your child’s hyposensitivity to certain textures, but it’s also important to integrate a combination of toys and activities together to stimulate their oral receptors. Here are a few ideas you may want to try.
Have your child eat chewy or crunchy snacks:
Hot and Cold
To awaken those oral receptors with sensory input, we also want to try foods with different temperatures and flavors. Helping your child discover their sensitivities to hot, cold, spicy, salty, sour and sweet can help you understand what foods may help with their sensory integration. Foods that also required licking their lips or sucking not only improves their sensory input, but also their speech and language.
- Ice cream (have your child buy a cone, not a cup so they can use their tongue for licking the ice cream)
- Salsa (try them with mild salsa first and if they like it, you can add more heat)
- Grapefruits (sour fruits that won’t ruin their teeth)
- Oatmeal or Applesauce (thick and bumpy textures)
Lips and Tongue
Try activities that will help your child use their lips and tongue to improve their oral sensitivities.
- Blow Balloons
- Use an Electric Toothbrush
- Suck through a straw (Put small pieces of paper on your kitchen table and have your child pick them while sucking through the straw)
- Blow bubbles
- Suck on popsicles, lollipops and otter pops
Integrated Learning Strategies is a Utah-based center dedicated to helping mainstream children and children with learning challenges achieve academic success. Our services provide kids with non-traditional tutoring programs within the Davis County, Kaysville, Layton, Syracuse, Farmington, and Centerville areas. Areas to find Integrated Learning Strategies include: Reading tutors in Kaysville, Math tutors in Kaysville, Common Core Tutors in Kaysville, Tutors in Utah, Utah Tutoring Programs
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