As a behavior and autism specialist, I work with children of all ages… Some have disabilities and some do not…. But one common thread I see in every classroom I enter, is at least one student who chews…. Some are girls, some are boys…… some have a disability while others do not, some show extreme academic knowledge while others seem to struggle, a few show signs of anxiety but again the common thread….. they all appear to have signs of sensory struggles. While some of the students are not caught in the act, the results of their behavior still linger, the wetness on their sleeve or cuff, the eraser and distorted metal at the end of their pencil, or the eraser with teeth marks prominently displayed. Some demonstrate their habits; openly chewing on their fingers, the button on their shirt, or the ribbon in their hair. For many children, if the object can make it to their mouth unnoticed or not, it does.
Although such behavior is expected and tolerated as a toddler, it is not accepted well for those who have fully past the arrival of their baby teeth. When questioning of teachers occur, they often complain of such behavior. Many commenting, “I spend my day constantly stating, “please take such and such out of your mouth. You are in the “x” grade.” While many teachers express concern, others share more confusion and annoyance than understanding… Why, You may ask… because possibly they don’t understand sensory integation issues… Others are just frustrated because a pencil can not be found without a missing (eaten off) eraser, or a sharp metal edge, or broken lead where the point should be…. Others question the students level of hunger, only to emphasize, they just came back from lunch or got off the bus. They are perplexed as to why anyone would want to put something in their mouth that wasn’t edible much less sanitary.
Explaining sensory issues is not an easy thing to understand…. Although I can share the definition, and all the why’s of what they do…. Unless one has sensory issues it is very hard to “understand”… We want to attach it to a memory, a bad habit, or even a routine…. Just something that seems so unusual…. so immature……. We want to put a specific cause which created this seemingly unnecessary behavior. Sure, sometimes there is a valid reason…. They like the way it feels…. I mean who doesn’t like the feel of silk, or cashmere?? But the feel of the item, isn’t the underlying reason…. There are many reasons why children with sensory issues, most often those who have Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder or other sensory processing problems often seen in children with ADD, or other medical or developmental delays chew, and often chew constantly. The need to chew and other sensory characteristics has to do with how their brain processes incoming information from their environment.
Although many would prefer the child or student “overcoming” their need to chew, or for them to ignore the need unless in private or to get rid of the behavior all together, it isn’t that simple. Having a need for high sensory input isn’t just going to go away; but there are things, we as adults can learn to help students with their chewing needs. As the teacher, parent, therapist, etc we can assist in teaching them the much needed self regulation skills to keep themselves in balance and to meet their needs in a preferred and socially acceptable way. Although the behavior we often see exhibited within a classroom or social setting by children with sensory needs may seem peculiar, most everyone in society has some sort of sensory preference or quirk….
I am sure you know someone that twirls their hair when nervous, or fidgets with their pin, rubs the side of their face or their feet together when going to sleep??? or perhaps you will not eat certain textures, such as jello, pudding, or mashed potatoes? Must cut tags out of your shirts, can’t tolerate the sound of corduroy much less tolerate wearing it? See we all have our own little quirks that would fall into the category of sensory issues… But as adults we have learned how to tolerate those things that are necessary and stay away from the ones that are not…. We have learned over the years what type of things help calm us, increase our focus or maintain our concentration.
For children with sensory processing deficits such as Autism or the others previously mentioned, their brain becomes overloaded with all the incoming information from the environment. They most often do not have the skills needed to overcome all the information that is coming through their sensory preceptors at one time. When your brain is accepting information from your eyes, ears, nose, and finger tips without being filtered properly, it can be quite overwhelming. The anxiety causes their brain to be
The body’s response to such stress, is to initiate a comforting behavior….. Thus the chewing….. Not only does this calming activity help the child to focus, but it also brings them great comfort when in new situation or in unfamiliar on taxing environments. Although many of us have our preferred methods of coping when in like situations; counting to ten, taking a deep breath, visualizing something positive or for some taking a Xanax. But those with sensory processing disorder,
Must Perform these Actions in Order to FUNCTION…..
As stated above sometimes this action includes chewing on their clothes until the holes take over. Many times their shirts are constantly wet from being in their mouth. Some children chew their school supplies with pencils, erasers, and paper being at the top of the list. Many children will chew anything…. crayons, marker lids, notebooks, and even the corner of their library book. In some extreme cases some students will bite themselves in an effort to get relief, leaving their poor little arms and other parts looking bruised and battered.
Kris and Brandi have a passion for children with special needs, their families and those responsible for their education. They see their business Above All Else as their calling not just their jobs. It is personal, they live the special needs life everyday- day in and day out due to their 15 year old son having moderate-severe Autism. They know how it feels to receive such a damning diagnosis, to have the feelings of despair, and isolation. Their goal is that no family ever loses hope. (continue reading...)