Many children chew on various things such as clothing, toys, and other household items. This can be a way of your child exploring his environment, fulfilling a sensory need, or it is being used as a calming strategy. Chewing on items is very common in children with autism as well as some typically developing children. Shirts are most often the item that gets chewed on because it is always available and easily accessible.
Below are a few tips on how to properly address children who chew:
- Replace the shirt with a chewing toy. These items will allow your child to get that oral input of chewing without destroying their clothing. Chewing toys come in many forms such as tubes, necklaces, bracelets and shapes, and they are widely available on many therapeutic websites. Make sure this chewing toy is always accessible, and if you see your child begin to chew on his shirt, immediately give him the chewing item, or better yet have your child wear the chewing item so it is easily accessible.
- If the chewing is something your child does when he is nervous, begin to explore other calming techniques in an attempt to replace the chewing with something more socially appropriate.
- Reinforce your child during times when he is not chewing on his shirt.
- Taking chewing breaks throughout the day. Engage your child in very fun and reinforcing activities, but let them know the chewing item needs to be put aside while they engage in the activity. Activities can include swinging, going to the park, playing a game on a tablet, singing songs, or whatever activity is really reinforcing to your child.
- Engage your child in various oral exercises such as singing, blowing bubbles, making different sounds with their mouth, etc. Be creative and make these exercises fun and enjoyable.
- If it seems like your child is in pain while he is chewing on items, it is important to seek the opinion of a medical professional to rule out any medical or dental issues.
If the chewing does not decrease over time or begins to worsen, there are a variety of therapists that are able to help with this behavior. These therapists can include Board Certified Behavior Analysts, Speech Therapists, Occupational Therapists, or Social Workers. Once the function of the behavior is determined, your child could begin one of the above therapies to assist in decreasing the behavior.
NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!