How can I help?
Where you feel the oral sensory seeking is related to a developmental delay, then it will be important to provide your child with developmental age appropriate activities. These may be games and activities that are designed for younger children, rather than their actual age. We would recommend toys that are designed for under two years and are therefore safe to mouth. You can be quite creative with this. Look for toys with different textures. If the child is able to eat safely, you can also use harder food items, such as teething rusks, long carrots or broccoli stems. Different temperatures can give variety. The child may also like toys that vibrate. There is a product called the ARK z-vibe which is very robust and designed for children. It is best to search using the term ‘ARK Z-vibe.’ Otherwise, you can receive some very interesting search results!
Your child will also likely enjoy sensory play activities such as water play, corn flour or edible finger paints, general toys with light, noise or vibration. You must just make sure that any item you are using is safe to be put in their mouth and cannot be accidentally swallowed. In addition, children who are oral sensory seekers benefit from whole body play and games. This includes swings, sand pits, messy play, soft play areas, swimming, etc. For children in wheelchairs, we would definitely recommend seeking out a wheelchair swing or sensory play space they are able to access.
Oral sensory seeking to help with self-regulation and sensory overload
Here, it will depend on what your child is putting into their mouth and when. Firstly, it is helpful to identify if there is a pattern to the oral seeking behaviour. Does it happen more often at home or at school? Is it happening more in the morning or the evening? What events or activities trigger it? It is happening more often when your child is tired? Does it happen more when they are worried? Could they be overloaded? Might they be bored?
If there is a pattern then you may be able to identify what is increasing your child’s arousal. If it is a time of day then you could try some of the suggestions below to help your child to stay a bit calmer at this time. When there is a specific event or activity you may be able to modify the activity to make it easier for your child to manage. Or, if you think they are bored, you could find another activity for them to do.
If you think it is more linked to sensory overload, then you will need to consider how this sensory overload can be reduced during their day. Some of the oral activities below may help with regulation. Heavy work can also be a useful strategy. Your child may also benefit from assessment by an occupational therapist trained in sensory integration.
Sensory activities to help children who are oral sensory seeking
Please note many of these activities include food. It is expected that the adult using the suggestions considers any allergies or dietary requirements the child may have. As a general rule, chewing and sucking have a more calming effect. Crunchy textures can be more alerting, but in some cases can also help to reorganise.
General oral activities to help children oral sensory seekers include:
Remember, most oral sensory seekers are looking for ways to soothe themselves and stay calm. It is a way to self-regulate. So, once you recognise the symptom and its triggers, and find alternative safe self-regulation strategies that work for them, it does not take long for behaviour to change.
Where to Next?
To explore chewing further we recommend Help! Why is my child chewing on clothing and other things?
If you want to learn more about sensory chew toys then this is your next article Tips for Choosing Sensory Chew Toys.
You can learn more about sensory regulation here Sensory regulation strategies – what are they and how can they help your child?