Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Chew

My boys, like many autistic kids, are always sticking things in their mouths.  On more than one occasion, I caught Gaston (seven years old) chewing on a tyre from a Lego set as if it were a piece of gum.  The real trouble-maker, however, is Rémi (age six).

Rémi is always mouthing stuff.  He's put teeth marks in all our nice wooden furniture.  He's chewed the paint of the window handles in his room.  He's bitten Anne (my wife) and me several times, as though sinking his teeth into our shoulders enhances the warm, fuzzy feeling of a tight hug from a parent.  I can't let him use an iPod anymore because he's already chewed up several ear buds.  His latest thing is chewing on the collar of his shirt.  On more then one occasion, he's picked up 24 hour bugs which nobody else in the family has caught;  I suspect he's made himself sick drinking dirty rainwater from the garden.

In short, Rémi is always biting, licking or chewing something.  It's a problem, and we need to fix it.  As with all these behavioural (and seemingly insurmountable) problems, we discussed it with his teachers at Western Autistic School, and they had a number of solutions as though they'd dealt with the problem a thousand times before.

My favourite solution is the chew.  This was given to Rémi by the occupational therapist, as part of a new "oral motor program".  It's essentially an indestructible tube of silicon which makes a satisfying squeaking noise when chewed.    The teachers offer it to him before lunch and play times, he chews it for a few minutes and then he gives it to an adult.  Similarly, whenever they catch him chewing on his shirt, they offer him a few minutes with the chew and he hands it back when he's done.  I've seen him use it at home:  it seems to me that his brain turns off completely while he's chewing, he gets bored after a few seconds, and he moves on.

The theory is to satisfy his primal need to chew stuff.  He still seems to prefer chewing on our wooden furniture and remote controls, though.

Oral motor programs must be commonplace.  If you google "chewlery", you'll find dozens of online shops catering to disabled children, selling (ugly) jewelry which is specially designed to be worn by children and chewed on.

These programs might not work straight away, but I think Rémi will eventually learn that chewing on some things is okay and other things is not.  We just need to gradually change his preferences.

Maybe we'll even get our hands on some of that god awful chewlery.


  1. We deal with the same problem with 'Bot. Chewed shirts suck. There's no saving a shirt once it's been chewed.

  2. I'm not sure which is worse, chewing legos or chewing gum. I hate gum. Just thought you should know.

  3. @BD Yes, we *all* know how gum holds a special place in your heart.

  4. Owen had a chew as well, it was called "Chewlery" and it was wonderful! He is pretty much out of the Oral Sensory, but when he was in it - It was a life saviour!

  5. Thanks for posting on this, I have been forgetting to look it up. My 5 year old thinks life is great after I bought him hubba bubba for the first time. I wonder if the chewy things are flavored?

  6. GL used to chew his cuffs and collars. The thing is, chewing made them wet, so he would then strip down and demand a complete change of clothes, start chewing on the clean shirt, and repeat. We bought him chewlery—he liked wearing it, but chewing it—not so much. We bought every kind of chew toy in every therapy catalog, and were eyeing the chew toys in the pet aisle, but never found one he would chew. If we asked him to chew it, he would nibble, just to be polite, and put it down ASAP. None of that deep, hearty gnawing like he did on his shirts. We never did find anything that worked, but he apparently satisfied whatever need chewing filled, and ultimately stopped chewing on his own.

  7. Here's an article on chewing, and a variety of strategies to decrease chewing in children with autism.

  8. my child eats paper and has to chew and chew it also her clothes or towls and if her top is wet i have to change it and she starts all overagain