Strategies for Oral Seeking Behavior
My son, who has Down Syndrome, has always been an oral seeker. Since the day he was born, he has tried to shove his entire fist into his tiny little mouth! We spent a lot of time with different occupational therapists while he was growing up trying to discover new strategies to use. While we had early intervention in the house, we tried many different strategies. His hands were getting so bad at one point, his nails were turning brown and falling off from being wet all the time! Then, he entered Kindergarten and received a brand new set of therapists! So we got all new ideas to try!
So, I wanted to share a few of the strategies that we have learned over the years to curb those oral-seeking behaviors.
What is Oral Seeking Behavior?
Oral Seeking behavior is basically when you have a child that is seeking input that is on, in, or near the mouth. That might look different for each student. Do you see students chewing on things like their shirts or the tops of their pencils? Maybe you have students humming or making loud noises. Do you see students drooling or mouthing their hands? These are all types of oral sensory-seeking behaviors.
Many students are seeking this input to help with self-regulation. This is calming to their bodies. They are seeking proprioceptive input. Their nervous systems are not registering this type of input and so they are seeking more of it to register in their nervous system.
If this is impacting their learning or is becoming unsafe, this is where we need to intervene.
Many times we thought my son had PICA, but that was ruled out because he wasn't fully ingesting the things that he was mouthing.
I wanted to share some suggestions that we have learned over the years with my own son and my own students.
The first thing that you can try is giving the student more heavy work. I know that it sounds counterintuitive, but providing proprioceptive input to other parts of our bodies can give us just enough input to not need the oral input.
My son would love to go to the therapy room and push around large furniture and other objects to get all of his proprioceptive input in!
Other things that have worked for Jacob are using a weighted lap and compression vest.
Waking up the mouth!
One of the things that we have found to help Jacob “wake up” his mouth is by using sour sprays. We used these ones from Amazon. This gave him just enough to stop mouthing his hands for a while.
Another thing that we have tried is a vibrating toothbrush in the morning. This helped for the first part of the day.
When he was younger, we used Nuks to rub inside his mouth. We also used some vibration on the outside of the mouth.
This was one of Jacob's favorite ways to get that oral motor input. He just loves to blow bubbles. Really any type of blowing is great for oral input. Your students can blow bubbles. They can also use a straw to blow cotton balls across a table. Your students can even try blowing a pin wheel. Each of these types of activities can be great oral feedback.
Using Chewies for Oral seeking input
Once Jacob was in school, something that we tried was different types of chewlery. This is just something that is functional that he can chew on that is age-appropriate so that he wasn't chewing on his hands all the time.
There are a lot of different options out there for this. The one that worked the best was this Shark necklace chewy.
I am not talking about any gum, I am talking about the hard to chew, super pink, bubble gum. For most people, bubble gum is tiring for the jaw, especially to chewing it for long periods of time. However, for those oral sensory seekers, this can be just the trick!
I will say that gum doesn't work for my son. He swallows it almost immediately and so until he learns to only chew it, we have to rely on other strategies.
This is very controversial because many schools don't allow gum chewing. Also, it may not seem fair that Johnny gets to chew gum but not everyone else. So you can see where this can get a little sticky…
…Ha Ha, did you see what I did there!
Make sure that you introduce expectations if you do try to use gum. When can they chew it, for how long, how much, and so on. So I would say, try it, if it doesn't work then you can move on to the next strategy.
Let's talk about feelings!
Maybe the reason your student is mouthing things is because of how they are feeling. Maybe they have a test later that day and they are knawing on the top of the pencil. Get down on their level and talk to them about their feelings. They might be anxious or mad.
A Variety of Foods!
The last thing I want to talk about is introducing a variety of different foods to those students. Trying different types of spicy, salty, crunchy, and sour foods is another great way that you can try waking up the mouth and giving that oral seeking input.
Remember to check with your occupational therapist to find out what the best recommendations are for your students. When you first start introducing different strategies to your students, try one strategy at a time. In addition, remember to track data so you know what is working and what is not. Oral seeking behaviors can be tricky!