QUESTION: Students Who Chew on Everything?

QUESTION:

Do you have any suggestions for students who are chewing on pencils/shirt/objects besides chewing gum? We are already offering chewy foods, oral motor exercises, and chewy tubes/necklaces. If these strategies are not working, would it still be considered a sensory modulation/regulation issue?

GWEN’S ANSWER:

If those strategies aren’t working, here are a couple of thoughts:

1. Try to determine if there is a pattern to the chewing: Does it happen more when the student is overwhelmed/bored/task demand, is too high/environment, is loud, etc? This may be a coping strategy rather than simply a need for oral input. By modifying the environment or task, you may be able to reduce the chewing.
2. This can start out as an oral need and then become a habit. To address this, I recommend building oral input into his/her day to make sure you are meeting the need, but then if he/she continues to chew, I would treat it behaviorally. An appropriate consequence would be requiring the student to clean the object he chewed. If it is a pencil or other object, he can wash it with soap and water. If it is his shirt, he could be required to change shirts and wash the chewed one in the sink (appropriate in a special ed setting. If this is a regular ed setting, you could ask the parents to have him wash it out at home instead). By using consequences like this, our goal would be to help the student break the habit by increasing his awareness of it through consistency and making the cleanup effort cause him to think twice before engaging in this behavior.

I hope this helps! Please keep me posted if you find a solution for these kids.

Best Wishes,
Gwen