Originally written for and published on Harkla.co
Oral Sensory Input
If you’re new to the language or world of “sensory processing,” you’ve likely heard many terms describing how your child takes in sensory information and makes sense of it all. From processing, to integration, proprioception, vestibular, interoception...there’s a lot to consider when finding the right sensory tools to help your child regulate.
Oral sensory input is one of the systems that our body has to provide us information about the world around us. Taste (sweet/bitter/sour/spicy), texture (hard/soft/smooth/lumpy), temperature (hot/cold/mild) -- we get all of that from what we put on or in our mouths.
If you've read any of our blog articles on choosing the right sensory supports for your child, you'll remember how often we talk about oral sensory input or using the mouth to help with sensory regulation.
Oral Sensory Toys and Autism
Occupational Therapists know that integration of the mouth and the suck, swallow, breathe sequence is critical to promote regulation with children who have sensory processing dysfunction. Chewing, sucking, and blowing are all motor movements that, especially when used safely in conjunction with other sensory activities, can play a key role in helping your child maintain focus, participation, and regulation.
During times of transition or periods of uncertainty and anxiety, some children revert to sucking and chewing on clothing, hair, or fingers to self-soothe. While these times may be short-lived, they are an indication that your child needs oral sensory input to self-regulate and we want to give them more appropriate alternatives to do so!
It is estimated that 75% of children with autism have “significant symptoms of sensory processing disorder” (STAR Institute). This could present differently depending on the individual child’s sensory profile, but when it comes to oral sensory behaviors, you could observe:
Eats a limited diet of certain foods
Licks, mouths or chews on non-food items (clothes, toys, hands, hair)
Messy eater - unaware of food on his face, around his mouth
Bites non-food items until they are unrecognizable! (i.e. pencil biting)
If you’re observing any of these oral behaviors, try adding chewy toys, whistles, thick straws, crunchy or chewy foods, and/or bubbles to your sensory tool box for oral sensory needs.
Oral Sensory Toys for Moderate Chewing
Chewing provides proprioceptive sensory input to the muscles and joints of the jaw. Depending on the toughness or stickiness of what you’re chewing, that proprioceptive input can vary. For example, a hard sourdough pretzel is going to be tougher to bite and chew than a skinny pretzel stick. Raw carrots and celery provide great opportunities for chewing healthy snacks but once you cook them, they turn to mush (and don’t offer the same crunch)!
Some of our favorites for moderate chewing are:
Oral Sensory Tools for School
For kids who need a more fashionable or less obvious sensory solution for the school environment, check out these wearables and pencil toppers that allow for discrete chewing:
Oral Sensory Toys for Vibration
Vibration offers powerful proprioceptive sensory input to the mouth, jaw, and cheeks. Check out these oral sensory tools that offer vibration too!
Oral Sensory Tools for Blowing
When you move your mouth to blow out candles, blow into a balloon, or blow a cotton ball across the table, you are using your oral motor muscles in coordination and building that strength. Consider it “heavy work” for the muscles of your mouth! These oral sensory toys for blowing can add a bit of fun to sensory diet activities with whistles, blow pop toys, lights, and noises.
Tips and Takeaways
Talk to your occupational therapist and speech therapist to find ways to incorporate oral sensory input into your child’s day. It could be as simple as considering the textures and “crunch factor” of the foods in his lunchbox, or you could want to add an oral sensory tool to help him regulate. At home or school, there are a wide variety of oral sensory tools that support focus and attention in discrete ways. Luckily, there are a number of companies who recognize the need for these tools to not appear so “therapy-ish” and have made some colorful, fun, themed toys that are sure to appeal to a variety of ages and interests. Check out a few of our favorites and let us know if your top oral sensory tool should be added to our list!