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Understanding Autism & Chewing

Chewing is a behavior very often observed in children and adults with autism. In many cases, children with autism tend to chew on things that are not edible and this can create health concerns.

Chewing can either be a form of stimming or self-stimulatory behavior that may be a form of expression or just a relaxation technique. While it may also be a result of sensory issues and children may chew due to the sensation. Over or under stimulation of senses, stress, anxiety may also trigger the habit of chewing.

A child may chew on clothes, paper, plastic objects, toys or other such objects. The habit can vary from being mild to severe with varying frequencies. Excessive chewing is not good for the teeth, is unhygienic and harmful for health.

There is also the chance that children may swallow inedible objects accidently while chewing.

Ranjani Chandrasegar, a parent from Chennai says that focus should be on changing the behavior. She shared some valuable tips for managing the habit.

"Offer appropriate "replacement behaviors" for mouthing when necessary. Facilitate engagement in general sensory activities throughout the day for self-regulation. Provide "chewy" and/or "crunchy" foods. Provide strong flavored foods (for maximum sensory impact) Provide cold foods, even freezing foods not typically frozen such as pudding, raw carrots, bananas) Use of vibration via a mechanical toothbrush or "specialized tool* external to jaw/cheeks and internal for teeth brushing/oral sensory input. Ranjani Chandrasegar, parent

Here are some things to consider about the chewing habit in a person with autism

  1. Children with autism may not have a control on the habit of chewing.

  2. It is important to understand that the habit could be triggered due to stress, anxiety, sensory processing issues.

  3. The habit may involve chewing on non-eatable objects like paper, cloths, toys, pencils etc.

  4. The habit is not safe and can cause harm to health, teeth and may also cause choking.

  5. It helps to identify the triggers or reasons that cause the child to start chewing objects.

  6. By using distractions, children can be kept away from the habit of chewing.

  7. Techniques, tools, and strategies are needed to make the children busy so they don't feel the need to chew.

  8. Keep the child busy in activities such as reading, singing, talking, storytelling, blowing bubbles, balloons etc.

  9. If the habit is severe, experts should be consulted for advice.

  10. Through therapy, exercises and stimulation tools, the habit may be reduced.

  11. Give food of various textures such as carrots, apples, dry fruits, nuts, crunchy foods etc. to the child.

  12. Special chewable toys can also be used if the child is feeling very anxious and stressed.

  13. Avoid scolding the child and be patient.

"Like all other behaviors that autistic kids have, chewing habit also is mostly due to sensory issues. The reason behind chewing habit could be because of the grinding sound in response to their behaviour, which might help them to keep them calm by evading the intensity of external sounds, which they may feel difficult to filter & hence disturbs them. We first need to observe & analyze the reason behind this behavior and try to evade the triggering stimulus that provokes this behavior. Oral massagers, soft nontoxic teethers to soothe their sensory seeking or behaviour modification to revert them to follow appropriate behaviour with chewing only edible things, says Nirmala Thiyagarajan, a parent

It is imperative to understand the underlying issue that cause the children or adults to chew. Age appropriate help can bring about a positive change in behavior over time.

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