If you notice that you have a chewer in the classroom, today I want to give you some classroom (or home) tips for chewers and oral sensory seekers.
What is an Oral Sensory Seeker?
So what do I mean by the term “oral sensory seeker?” If you are new to the world of sensory processing, then oral refers to the mouth or gustatory system (this includes taste) and a sensory seeker is someone who seeks out certain sensory stimuli in order to feel focused or on task.
A child, or adult, who is an oral sensory seeker is probably going to be the kid that puts everything in their mouths in the classroom. But it may not be that obvious either.
What To Look For with an Oral Sensory Seeker/Chewer
Here are some things to look for to see if you might have some oral sensory seekers in your classroom this year:
- Do any of your kids put pencils or pens in their mouths and chew on the tops?
- Do any of your kids chew on paper or other textures in the classroom or at their desk?
- Do any of your kids chew on their hands or hair?
- Do any of your kids chew on their cheeks or bite their nails?
- Do they chew on their clothes?
Some of these things may be very subtle and you might really have to observe to notice them. Another thing to consider if you notice these behaviors is WHEN do you notice the child doing them:
- During a test or quiz time? (then it might be helping them to focus and think)
- In a large group or circle time? (maybe large groups make them nervous and they need that input to stay in control)
- During reading or quiet time in the classroom? (Maybe they are bored, need more input?)
All of these things DOES NOT mean this child has a sensory processing disorder. It just means that this is the sensory input they need in order to function in your classroom. It's when the behavior either becomes disruptive or safety or sanitary concern to others or even themselves that teachers and parents usually become concerned.
What do I do Now?
So if you notice a child who is chewing a lot or maybe starting to be disruptive with their oral sensory-seeking behaviors, the first thing you can do is talk to them privately to see if they are even aware they are doing it. Do not call them out publicly (unless they are doing something harmful or unsafe of course), if their behavior is being caused by anxiety this will only make it worse.
After talking to the student and figuring out what is causing their oral seeking behavior, set up some appropriate things for them to get that oral sensory input in an age-appropriate and constructive way.
Oral sensory seekers are typically craving a lot of proprioceptive input since the act of chewing is “heavy work” for the mouth. So getting them moving and active is going to help even more than just offering them something to chew.
After you address the gross motor component, start to offer oral sensory input that is age-appropriate:
- Chewing gum (during reading or quiet times perhaps?)
- Drinking through a straw (the act of sucking through a straw provides good oral sensory and proprioceptive input to the mouth)
- Blowing (have the entire class take a break for a blowing game race *blowing through a straw is good too!*)
- Crunchy snacks such a pretzels, carrots sticks etc, anything that provides lots of chewing/heavy work for the mouth
- Provide fidgets or appropriate items to chew on during class time. Ark Therapeutics has a great selection of chewies and chewable items.
If you've had a child who chews in your classroom, I'd love to hear your tips that worked for them. Just share below in the comments.
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