A lot of children on the spectrum or with other sensory needs have tendency to seek oral stimulation by chewing. In fact, chewing issues are far more common than you'd think and they have a lot of negative implications. In this post, I look at some of the chewing issues my children (and I) have and look at a great product for reducing the problem.
Chewing on Shirts
In my eldest son's case, his chewing mainly affects his clothing. He chews on his shirt collars, fronts and sleeves and his clothes often look tattered after only having been worn once or twice.
There are a lot of negatives associated with chewing. For a start, chewing tends to bring children to the attention of bullies - particularly when the child has to walk around with a buttonless shirt or a shirt with holes in the front.
Then there's the smell. It doesn't take long for chewed shirts to stink. In fact, they usually start to smell after a few hours. You can imagine the sorts of social issues this causes.
Then, there's the cost. Shirts aren't cheap - particularly school shirts. Even worse, chewing on branded objects such as a school hat with a logo, a scout scarf or heaven forbid a scout shirt covered in badges can result in some signficant costs.
Finally, there's the matter of self-esteem. The reaction of others to chewing and even the constant correction from parents can make a child lose their self worth. These children don't want to chew. They don't set out to destroy their clothing just to make their parents angry. They're chewing to settle their nerves in much the same way as we subconsciously scratch an itch.
Other Manifestations of Chewing
It's funny but when my eldest son first started chewing, my initial reaction was; "I don't know why he chews. I didn't chew when I was younger". Then a few days later I looked down at the top of the pen I was using and I remembered how my pens and pencils at school didn't run out - they always got eaten first.
My parents eventually gave me a metal parker pen to prevent me from chewing it. It didn't get chewed, but it did rust. I didn't have the same chewing issues as my son, mine simply manifested in different ways. Even worse, I can remember having bleeding gums from the sharp edges of my pen as my chewing turned it from a mere writing implement to an instrument of self-harm. If only I had something safer to chew on.
I've also noticed that my youngest child is constantly hungry, even five minutes after a major meal. He was always mouthing and chewing toys as an infant and indeed he often still does it now though usually he'll go after food instead.
He's not really hungry for food. He's hungry for sensation.
Chewelry: A Neat Solution to the Chewing Problems
A few months ago, I won a contest on the Gift blog. and got some Chewelry for my children. I'd actually been looking at the site with intent to buy but the heart shapes and pastel colors were putting me off. They looked a little "babyish" for my kids (aged 7 and 10).
At the time I won the competition, my son had just eaten a hole in his NEW school shirt and things were tough at home. He was also drawing a lot of undue attention to himself at school and scouts by eating his clothing and as you can imagine, his mother and I weren't too happy either.
I chose black and white chewelry and went for a circle shape because I thought it would be less obvious and more masculine. My wife later asked my why I hadn't gone for the blue one which matched his school uniform shirt (now I understand the colour range).
The black and white chewelry has a sort of "ying-yang" feel to it and we got the version with the lanyard rather than the pin-on version. This has turned out well because more often than not, my son chews on the lanyard rather than the chewelry.
That's not to say that the chewelry iself is unchewed, simply that it's not as popular as the lanyard. The best thing though is that while he's wearing it, he's not chewing his shirt. The smell seems to have gone and despite our fears, none of his peers have given him the slightest bit of trouble over the chewelry.
The only problem we have now is finding it when he's gotten changed and dumped his clothes on the floor. He likes it and understands how it helps him but remembering to put it on in the morning is a different thing altogether.
It's surprising how a small thing like this can make such an improvement in his life.