We’re excited to be back again with our friend Dayna from Lemon Lime Adventures for the latest post in our series about sensory processing. Today, we’ll talk about oral sensory processing and how it’s related to child development. At The Inspired Treehouse, we write about sensory processing from our point of view as pediatric occupational therapists, using our training and experience to break information down into terms everyone can understand. Dayna, an early childhood educator and a homeschooling mom of 3, including a little guy with Sensory Processing Disorder, writes about Sensory Processing Disorder and sensory activities for kids from a mom and teacher’s point of view. Be sure to head over to Lemon Lime Adventures to check out Dayna’s post about oral sensory processing.
WHAT DOES ORAL SENSORY MEAN?
We’ve described how the ears, the skin, the eyes, and the muscles and joints channel information about kids’ surroundings to their brains where it can be processed and understood. But what about the mouth? The sensory receptors in our mouths allow us to perceive temperature, texture (e.g. smooth like yogurt, hard like a potato chip, or a mixture of textures like cereal with milk), and taste (e.g. sweet, salty, bitter, sour).
Our brains also receive lots of proprioceptive information from the joint of the jaw as we bite and chew different foods that provide different types of resistance (e.g. a crunchy carrot, a chewy piece of candy). Oral sensory processing also contributes to the way we move our mouths, control our saliva, and produce sounds for clear speech. The way our mouths perceive sensory information helps us eat and drink in a functional, adaptive way and allows us to enjoy and participate in mealtimes with family and friends.
HEALTHY ORAL SENSORY PROCESSING
Children with healthy oral sensory processing typically eat a variety of foods with a range of tastes and textures. They are willing to try new foods (within reason…it is common for young kids to avoid certain foods like green leafy vegetables and certain kinds of meat). Kids with healthy oral sensory systems can tolerate eating foods with mixed textures like cereal and milk or vegetable soup and are able to tolerate tooth brushing and visits to the dentist with minimal protest. A child with a healthy oral sensory system does not need to seek out additional oral sensory experiences (e.g. chewing) in order to regulate his behavior.
PROBLEMS WITH ORAL SENSORY PROCESSING
Some children struggle with processing and responding to the oral sensory information they encounter in everyday life. They may have a heightened sensitivity (hypersensitivity or defensiveness) to oral input, causing them to be resistant to oral sensory experiences like trying new foods or brushing their teeth. They may choke or gag during these experiences. These children are often described as “picky eaters” and may have an extremely limited diet, restricting themselves to only a few familiar foods. Children with oral sensory processing issues may also refuse to use utensils to eat, disliking the feeling of a spoon or fork in their mouths. Their resistance to oral sensory experiences can be accompanied by extreme emotional reactions (e.g. tantrums, fear, running away), making mealtimes and dental hygiene very difficult. These children may be referred to specialized feeding clinics for aversions and to expand their diets and tolerances.
Other children experience decreased sensitivity to oral sensory input (hyposensitivity). These children may require more oral sensory input in order to help them organize their behavior and pay attention. They may bite, chew on, or mouth non-food objects (clothing, hands, fingers, pencils, toys) and even try to bite others. These children may require the use of chewy toys like Chewigem to prevent this type of behavior. They may make lots of noise with their mouths for extra sensory input (clicking, humming, buzzing), to the point of annoying or distracting the people around them. Sometimes children who are seeking out more oral sensory input will stuff their mouths with food at mealtimes. Decreased sensitivity to oral input can also lead to difficulty with awareness of the movements of the mouth, including coordinating the movements needed for chewing effectively and drinking from a cup or a straw. It may affect oral motor planning and sound and speech production.
OUR FAVORITE ORAL SENSORY SUGGESTIONS AND ACTIVITIES FOR KIDS
Oral sensory input can affect a child’s levels of arousal and potentially even change behaviors, helping a child become more organized and responsive.
Alerting oral sensory activities can bring more awareness and provide the sensory input kids need to focus and attend better at home and at school. Some examples of alerting oral sensory activities include:
-Vibration(battery powered toothbrush, vibrating toys on cheeks/lips)
-Play with mouth noises: buzzing like a bee, clicking tongue, humming, blowing raspberries
-Play with making faces in a mirror or imitating others’ funny faces: open mouth wide, sticking tongue out, smiling, frowning, filling cheeks up with air
-Eating crunchy snacks (e.g. apples, chips, pretzels, popcorn, raw veggies, toast, graham crackers, granola)
-Eating snacks with sour/sweet tastes (e.g. Warheads, sour gummy worms, grapefruit or orange wedges, lemonade)
-Eating salty snacks (e.g. chips, pretzels, nuts) -Snacking on cold foods (e.g. ice chips, popsicles, frozen grapes)
-Trying snacks with intense tastes and temperatures (Hot Tamales, carbonated beverages)
Calming oral sensory activities can help to calm the body, helping kids to regulate their behavior and function more appropriately for learning and other daily tasks. Some examples of calming oral sensory activities include:
-Sucking thicker liquids (milk shakes, smoothies, applesauce, pudding) through a straw
-Drinking from a water bottle with a straw or opening that requires sucking
-Gum or chewy candy (Charleston chews, caramel suckers, Starburst, Skittles, gummy bears, licorice)
-Dried fruits, fruit roll ups,, marshmallows, oranges, raisins
-Blowing bubbles, blowing up balloons, or blowing whistles and instruments
-Deep breaths in and out slowly through both the nose AND mouth
-Maintaining a sound for as long as possible (e.g. singing a note for as long as possible with one breath)
-Singing or humming
-Using chewy toys such as products from Chewigem USA. Chewigem USA products are great for a child that seeks out mild oral stimulation during the day (e.g. chewing pencil tops or erasers, sucking on fingers, chewing on shirt collars, etc.). They offer different levels of resistive input and come in cool designs that look like jewelry or accessories rather than just an oral sensory tool. *Adult supervision is recommended with any oral sensory intervention for safety. The necklace string is not to be put in the mouth, but is provided to make the product hands-free and portable.
Be sure to head on over to Lemon Lime Adventures to read Dayna’s take on oral sensory processing and to receive a 10% discount code for Chewigem USA products!
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Want to learn more about sensory processing? Check out our book, Sensory Processing 101!
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