Contact Us Make a payment Check In

Why Does My Child Put Everything In Their Mouth?

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.

Create a FREE sensory diet with this template from “Your Kids Table” HERE!

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

Bubbles Oral Motor Activities

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.

Why does my child put everything in their mouth? Carolina Therapy Connection

The Vestibular System in Pediatrics

What is the Vestibular System?

Vesti-what?!? The vestibular system is made up of the inner ear, vestibulocochlear nerve that communicates between the inner ear and brain, parts of the brainstem, and cortical areas in the brain. The vestibular system responds to head movements like when you nod your head “yes”, shake your head “no”, or tip your head to shake the water out of your ears. It also responds to movements like when you move forward or backwards when you’re sledding, move up and down like when you’re jumping, or when you spin around in circles. Overall the vestibular system helps you figure out where you are in space as you move around your environment so that you can… 

  • Maintain your gaze on a target while moving your head (vestibulo-ocular reflex)
  • Maintain postural control or balance
  • Orient yourself to your environment
  • React appropriately to your surroundings
  • Avoid falls

Check out this helpful resource from Integrated Learning Strategies, who breaks down the vestibular system as an internal GPS system for the body!

Vestibular Therapy Carolina Therapy Connection

What is vestibular dysfunction?

Vestibular dysfunction may be attributed to deficits or impairments of the inner ear, vestibulocochlear nerve, brain, or brainstem. As adults we may notice difficulties with our vestibular system due to symptoms like dizziness, vertigo, trouble keeping objects in focus while moving our head, or changes in our balance. Children who have vestibular concerns may not realize that they are dizzy or that movement of letters when reading is atypical if they have always experienced these symptoms. This can make diagnosing vestibular concerns hard and can often times be mistaken for other issues (learning disabilities, behavior problems etc.) due to a child’s inability to explain the symptoms they are experiencing.

Migraines, Benign Paroxysmal Vertigo of Childhood (BPVC), and Traumatic Brain Injuries are the most common causes of childhood vertigo. Ocular disorders, inner ear malformations, labyrinthitis (inflammation of the inner ear), and neuritis (inflammation of the vestibulocochlear nerve) are also common causes.

As a parent, here are a few signs and symptoms to watch for regarding vestibular dysfunction:

  • Head tilted to the side
  • Easily stressed, anxious, or upset with quick changes in movement or being on unstable, uneven, or taller surfaces
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Imbalance or frequent falls
  • Vertigo or dizziness
  • Reduced cognitive performance
  • Decreased consciousness or arousal
  • Poor spatial awareness, navigation, or orientation
  • Ringing in ears
  • Spontaneous and involuntary eye movements
  • Motion/car sickness
  • Constant need for movement or taking unsafe risks for various positional changes or movement patterns

What should you do if your child is experiencing vestibular dysfuntion?

First and foremost, consult your child’s pediatrician to discuss your concerns. You may be referred to a neurologist for further evaluation and recommendations. If your child’s pediatrician or neurologist determines that your child would benefit from Physical or Occupational Therapy treatment, your child may be referred for an initial OT and/or PT evaluation.

How can a pediatric occupational therapist or physical therapist help with vestibular concerns?

  • During the initial evaluation your therapist may…
    • Assess how your child’s eye move in a variety of situations
    • Screen for abnormal eye movements
    • Assess your child’s visual acuity
    • Test your child’s balance while static or standing still, as well as their dynamic balance while on a variety of surfaces, while they are moving, or while they are performing a task
    • Assess how your child responds to various positional changes and movement patterns
    • Assess for seeking or avoidance behaviors of various positional changes or movements
  • During treatment your therapist may…
    • Use balance beams, obstacle courses, balance boards, single leg stance activities, etc. to challenge and improve your child’s balance.
    • Use stair training, climbing a rockwall or ladder, standing on a platform swing, etc. to address gravitational sensitivities and challenge balance at various heights.
    • Use swinging, spinning, rolling in a foam cylinder, sliding down slide, riding on a scooter board, etc. to help strengthen your child’s vestibular system. These activities will also potentially help delay the onset or reduce the severity of your child’s dizziness.
    • Use specific activities involving movement of their eyes and head to strengthen their vestibular system.

If you have concerns about your child’s vestibular function, motor development, sensory difficulties or anything else, call Carolina Therapy Connection at 252-341-9944 or email us at info@carolinatherapyconnection.com to get started today! We accept all major insurances and would love to help your family and kiddo maximize their independence and potential to grow healthy and strong!

Blog Written By: Joann Flaherty, PT, DPT and Jessica Reynalds OTD, OTR/L

References:

  • Casselbrant ML, Villardo RJ, Mandel EM. Balance and otitis media with effusion. Int J Audiol. 2008;47(9):584-589.
  • Christy, J., Beam, M., Mueller, G., & Rine, R. (2019). Just Screen It!! (Part 2): Developmental Disability, Vestibular Deficit, or Both?. Presentation, APTA Combined Sections Meeting.
  • Christy, J., & Rine, R. (2019). Just Screen It!! (Part 1): Developmental Disability, Vestibular Deficit, or Both?. Presentation, APTA Combined Sections Meeting.
  • Lin, C. (2019). Vestibular Rehabilitation Intervention. Presentation, East Carolina University.
  • Salami, A., Dellepiane, M., Mora, R., Taborelli, G., & Jankowska, B. (2006). Electronystagmography finding in children with peripheral and central vestibular disorders.International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 70(1), 13-18. doi:10.1016/j.ijporl.2005.05.001
  • Wiener-Vacher, S. R. (2008). Vestibular disorders in children. International Journal of Audiology, 47(9), 578-583. doi:10.1080/14992020802334358
Pediatric Vestibular Therapy Greenville, NC Carolina Therapy Connection

Does My Child Need a Sensory Diet?

What is a Sensory Diet?

As a COTA, during my first visit with a family for Occupational Therapy Services I am looking for and asking about ways to develop a sensory diet for home, school and/or community use.

I often get the question, “What is a Sensory Diet?”

A Sensory Diet is a personalized, organized plan that provides sensory input activities that a person needs to regulate their body throughout the day.

What does it mean to “regulate”?

Sensory regulation is easier to understand once you understand how your senses impact your body. The five senses known to most people are taste, touch, smell, sight and sound. Some people are unaware that you also have two other senses: vestibular and proprioceptive. The Vestibular System is responsible for regulating spacial orientation and providing the brain with information about movement and head position so that our body’s can coordinate movements appropriately. The Proprioceptive System helps regulate body movement by providing our brain with information about force provided primarily through our joints and muscles. Now we have seven systems to look at! To understand more about children’s sensory systems, how they affect learning and sensory integration therapy, read our blog: “Making Sense of Our Experiences.”Vestibular System Carolina Therapy ConnectionProprioceptive System Carolina Therapy Connection

What can be addressed with a sensory diet?

Jumping, crashing and or falling on purpose could look like a kiddo is being too rough or is clumsy. We want to figure out why this is happening. Could this be that the kiddo’s body is not confident about where it is in space, which is regulated by the vestibular system? Could this be because the kiddo’s body is considered “under responsive”? This means simply that this kiddo’s body may not register textures or body movements on the same scale as yours or mine. They would be considered UNDER responsive because their body is always looking for MORE sensory input. If their sensory system is not regulated, it will most likely cause them to try to find ways to do that on their own. This may come out in excessive jumping, movement, crashing into things, falling on purpose, touching everything nearby, etc. This can be frustrating and scary for a parent because the last thing you want is to see your kiddo hurt!

What sensory diet look like on a day-to-day basis?

This is where a sensory diet comes into play. A sensory diet will be comprised of special exercises that are specific to your child’s age, physical and cognitive capabilities. We will also look at your schedule for the day and what items you have at your availability. This does not necessarily mean that you will need 3-4 hours of strength training with your kiddo or a gym with equipment to complete these tasks. It can as simple as using the own body in appropriate ways to provide the input needed! For example, if you are out in the community and see a lot of high energy movements coming from your kiddo, try bunny hopping all the way down the isle at the store or have them help you care bags of groceries, etc. At home, depending on the child’s age and abilities, helping with household chores such and carrying the laundry basket, vacuuming, wiping down the table after dinner, etc. Input can also be provided by drinking thick liquids like milkshakes through a straw, eating crunchy foods/snacks and chewing gum. These simple activities provide the child with the gross motor movement, deep pressure through the joints/muscles, heavy work (as long as it’s appropriate for the age) and the confidence of knowing that they CAN feel regulated!

How can Carolina Therapy Connection help?

Each sensory diet will be very specific to each child, so it is important that you stick with it and consult with your Occupational Therapy Practitioner before making significant changes or if it does not produce the outcomes you are expecting. Please also remember that this change does not happen over night, so please don’t be discouraged if there is not an immediate change. Think of it like a weight loss diet. You cannot expect to eat healthy and exercise for one day and reach the outcomes you want. It takes work and dedication on all parts! The important element here is that the child, with your help as parents, learns helpful and appropriate strategies to regulate their body. This will help in so many more areas such as; school performance, attention, behaviorally, emotionally, etc.

Please talk to your Occupational Therapy Practitioner about a Sensory Diet today or call our clinic at 252-341-9944 to get started!

Written by: Shelby Godwin, COTA/L, AC

Shelby Godwin Occupational Therapy Assistant Carolina Therapy Connection Sensory Diet Goldsboro NC

Image References: Tools to GrowOT