What is Oral Sensory Seeking?
Oral Sensory Seeking is the constant desire or need for a child to place objects in or touch their mouth. Children who have an oral fixation usually feel the need to constantly chew or suck on something. Depending on the age of the child, this may or may not be appropriate. As a parent, this can be difficult to navigate, especially due to the risk of choking on small objects. We know it is impossible to have eyes on your child every minute and scary to feel like you need to keep everything picked up off the floor and out of reach at all times. The oral stage of development that happens from birth to 21 months involves an infant’s pleasure center being focused on the mouth and lips, which are used for sucking and feeding. This is the age when the infant puts everything in the mouth—from hands, fingers, wrists, toys, pacifiers, clothing, blankets … just about anything within hands reach. One of the first prominent objects the baby’s mouth becomes accustomed to is a mother’s breast, for milk. In this blog, we will explore some of the reasons why your child may continue seeking additional oral sensory needs when it is no longer age-appropriate and activities to help them with this behavior.
What are Oral Sensory Seeking Behaviors?
When a child chews, mouths, sucks, or bites non-edible objects and/or edible objects frequently, we will call this an oral sensory seeking behavior. It can also involve harmful behaviors like biting. Some children who are seeking out oral and tactile (touch) sensory input will bite parts of their body, such as the arms, legs, feet and hands. Although oral seeking behavior can help children regulate their bodies and emotions at times, it can also prevent children’s learning if the child is constantly looking for objects to put in their mouth, or cause harm when they bite or suck on themselves. If children are distracted by finding objects or fixated on this behavior, it can affect their ability to focus at school or on an activity at hand.
Here is a list of common oral sensory seeking behaviors:
- Excessive or frequent licking and/or chewing of random objects or toys
- Excessive or frequent chewing of soft items or clothing (shirt sleeves, bed sheets, blankets, stuffed animals)
- Biting toys or people, especially when unprovoked or when overly excited
- Chewing the inside of the cheeks or biting/sucking on lip
- Biting nails
- Grinding teeth
- Stuffing mouth with food or holding food in mouth for a long period of time
- Drooling or spitting purposefully
How Can I Help My Child With Oral Sensory Behaviors?
Although there are a variety of ways to provide oral sensory input to children in a safe way and to replace oral sensory behaviors.. no child is the same when it comes to the solution. Our occupational therapists at Carolina Therapy Connection recommend that you experiment with these activities as part of your child’s sensory diet and notice what tends to calm, alert, and/or regulate them.
Oral Sensory Seeking – Chewing Activities
- Chewing crunchy foods, chewy foods, gum etc.
- Use a chewy jewelry or other sensory chew toys
- Vibrating chew toys (for kiddos who need that extra sensory input!)
Various Activities for Sensory Input
- Blowing bubbles or blowing up balloons
- Suck on sour candies, lollipops, ice cubes, etc.
- Clicking tongue
- Drink various textures through a straw (apple cause, milkshakes, yogurt, pudding, etc.)
- Whistles, party blowers, kazoos, harmonicas, pinwheels etc.
- Make a bubble mountains with dish soap and water
How can Carolina Therapy Connection help?
Occupational therapy addresses any barriers that affect someone’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, which includes sensory integration difficulties. Sensory integration refers to how your body recognizes, processes, and responds to information received by our sensory systems on an individual and combined level.This includes our traditional 5 senses, sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing; however, we also have proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems. Often times, oral sensory processing or seeking difficulties are paired with other sensory system difficulties. Occupational therapists use sensory integration therapy by exposing a child to sensory stimulation in a structured and organized way. The goal of sensory integration therapy is to adapt the child’s brain and nervous system to process sensory information more efficiently.
At Carolina Therapy Connection, we offer Sensory Integration Therapy and play-based treatment intervention that is specifically designed to stimulate and challenge all of the senses. Sensory Integration involves specific sensory activities (swinging, bouncing, brushing, providing oral sensory input and more) that are intended to help your child regulate his or her response to incoming sensory input. The outcome of these activities may be better focus and attention, improved behavior, and even lowered anxiety. Our therapists may work on lowering a patient’s negative reactions to touch, help them become better aware of their body in space, and work on their ability to manage their bodies more appropriately (run and jump when it’s time to run and jump, sit and focus when it’s time to sit and focus, etc.).
Our occupational therapists will complete an initial evaluation to become familiar with your child’s strengths, weaknesses and daily routine. Following the evaluation, they will create an individualized treatment plan and goals to address any concerns with development. We take pride in making therapy enjoyable and fun for your child, so that they can be motivated to live their life to their greatest potential. If you are interested in a FREE occupational therapy screening in the Greenville, Goldsboro, or New Bern, NC areas, call us at (252) 341-9944.