Activities That Build Oral Motor Skills Are Important For Kids With Autism
Although oral motor skills are often overlooked, they are extremely important for children with autism to develop. Kids who are constantly chewing or biting clothing, pencils, their own hands, or other inappropriate objects are usually seeking proprioceptive or tactile stimulation through their mouths. They could also be attempting to reduce anxiety, as the heavy proprioceptive input they receive through the mouth and jaw can calm an overstimulated nervous system.
Oral Motor Activities
While chewing is actually a good and necessary activity, it becomes a problem when it’s excessive, causes self-injury, or takes away from a child’s ability to participate in daily life.
Here are a few of our favorite oral motor activities that provide proper stimulation and reduce chewing and other behaviors:
- Crunchy and Chewy Foods. You can provide that heavy input for the jaw and mouth that your child is looking for by using crunchy and chewy foods as go-to snacks. Try granola, apples, carrots, pretzel rods, nut butters, licorice, or fruit leather. Chewing gum can also help children develop oral motor skills and help them focus.
- Straws. Plain drinking straws are a fantastic tool for helping your child develop oral motor skills. Use straws for drinking, especially thick beverages like milkshakes or yogurt-based smoothies, as well as for games, such as blowing bubbles in a bowl of water or shooting pellets of paper across the room.
- Heavy Work. We already discussed heavy work under proprioceptive activities, but incorporating more heavy work into your daily routine also helps children who are seeking heavy proprioceptive input through their mouths. Try climbing, taking out the trash, carrying laundry, and gardening.
- Hand-held, Non-Food Items. If you look around, you’ll notice that there are lots of kids’ activities that involve the mouth. Try bubble blowers, kazoos, harmonicas, pinwheels, whistles, and blow guns. A vibrating toothbrush is also a great way to provide your child with increased stimulation.
Overall, the main point to remember is that seeking oral stimulation is both natural and necessary for a balanced mind—for small children, older children, and even adults. Rather than becoming embarrassed by the behavior or trying to eliminate it altogether, seek out safe, appropriate ways for your child to get the needed sensory input.
At Springbrook Behavioral Health, we incorporate all types of sensory integration activities as well as recreational therapy, rewards-based programs, visual schedules, pharmaceutical intervention, and other tools to help your child succeed. If you are looking for professional help for your child, call us at 864.834.8013 for a consultation.