If you’re new to the language or world of “sensory processing,” you’ve likely heard many terms describing how your child takes in sensory information and makes sense of it all. From processing, to integration, proprioception, vestibular, interoception...there’s a lot to consider when finding the right sensory tools to help your child regulate.
In this article, we'll take a quick look at oral sensory processing disorder, as well as what sensory toys can help!
Oral sensory input is one of the systems that our body has to provide us information about the world around us. Taste (sweet/bitter/sour/spicy), texture (hard/soft/smooth/lumpy), temperature (hot/cold/mild) -- we get all of that from what we put on or in our mouths.
If you've read any of our blog articles on choosing the right sensory supportsfor your child, you'll remember how often we talk about oral sensory input or using the mouth to help with sensory regulation.
Occupational Therapists know that integration of the mouth and the suck, swallow, breathe sequence is critical to promote regulation with children who have sensory processing dysfunction. Chewing, sucking, and blowing are all motor movements that, especially when used safely in conjunction with other sensory activities, can play a key role in helping your child maintain focus, participation, and regulation.
During times of transition or periods of uncertainty and anxiety, some children revert to sucking and chewing on clothing, hair, or fingers to self-soothe. While these times may be short-lived, they are an indication that your child needs oral sensory input to self-regulate and we want to give them more appropriate alternatives to do so!
According to the STAR Institute, it is estimated that 75% of children with autism have “significant symptoms of sensory processing disorder". This could present differently depending on the individual child’s sensory profile, but when it comes to oral sensory behaviors, you could observe:
If you’re observing any of these oral behaviors, try adding chewy toys, whistles, thick straws, crunchy or chewy foods, and/or bubbles to your sensory toolbox for oral sensory needs.
Below, we'll take a look at which sensory toys to consider, depending on the inputs your child needs and the environment they are in.
Chewing provides proprioceptive sensory input to the muscles and joints of the jaw. Depending on the toughness or stickiness of what you’re chewing, that proprioceptive input can vary. For example, a hard sourdough pretzel is going to be tougher to bite and chew than a skinny pretzel stick. Raw carrots and celery provide great opportunities for chewing healthy snacks but once you cook them, they turn to mush (and don’t offer the same crunch)!
For kids who need a more fashionable or less obvious sensory solution for the school environment, check out these wearables from Chewigem and pencil toppers that allow for discrete chewing from Ark Therapeutic!
Vibration offers powerful proprioceptive sensory input to the mouth, jaw, and cheeks.
Check out this oral sensory tool that offers vibration too!
When you move your mouth to blow out candles, blow into a balloon, or blow a cotton ball across the table, you are using your oral motor muscles in coordination and building that strength. Consider it “heavy work” for the muscles of your mouth!
These oral sensory toys for blowing can add a bit of fun to sensory diet activities with whistles, blow pop toys, lights, and noises.
Talk to your occupational therapist and speech therapist to find ways to incorporate oral sensory input into your child’s day. It could be as simple as considering the textures and “crunch factor” of the foods in his lunchbox, or you could want to add an oral sensory tool to help him regulate.
At home or school, there are a wide variety of oral sensory tools that support focus and attention in discrete ways. Luckily, there are a number of companies who recognize the need for these tools to not appear so “therapy-ish” and have made some colorful, fun, themed toys that are sure to appeal to a variety of ages and interests.
Check out a few of our favorites and let us know if your top oral sensory tool should be added to our list!
I’m not sure if there is a “chewy” that is similar to skin. Personally, I have not come across anything like that. Sometimes just holding a chewy and using it that way works, instead of putting it around the neck or wrist. It’s also common for kids to hold blankets and chew on pendants or chew toys that are attached to the blanket. Hope this helps!
I work with a child with autism 10-12 hours a week. This child constantly bites his hand and sometimes puts other things in his mouth. The family and I have tried many different things and materials to attach to his shirt for him to chew on. He does not like to wear things around his neck so we just hang the items from clip on his shirt. He also doesn’t like bracelets or anything on his hands. Nothing seems to be more stimulating than biting his hand and this has been going for almost three years. Can you recommend a type of material or chewy that is tough but similar to skin? Thank you!
For a 2 year old you may want to consider a chewable that can be clasped to clothing, as you don’t want to put anything around the neck. There are also chewy bracelets or even soft bibs that have a section meant for chewing. I would use Google to search for any of the above.
All the best,
2 year old toddler sucking fingers and constantly putting rocks, gravel, etc, in her mouth.
What do you suggest of these items to help her?
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February 23, 2021
I have 19 month old twins that both have a need to suck. One of them sucks on his wrist or arm leaving marks on his skin. The other one sucks on his thumb mostly but sucks so hard he breaks the skin. They stopped taking the pacifier around 9 months and started sucking on skin around 13 months. I was wondering if you knew of something that would help them?