No matter what you call it – it’s one of those things that is just incredibly difficult to explain. The oral fixation. Most children outgrow this fixation during (and soon after) age two. Not so for children on the spectrum. Many of them continue to mouth objects – whether it’s actually putting objects in their mouth or just feeling their mouths and area around with their hands.
It’s a sensory issue. They often can’t feel the differences in objects so they will try other senses to try to make ‘sense’ of the object. They are often trying to make sense of their world in any way. Regardless, it’s difficult to explain to others while Tucker was still chewing on odd objects (paper, blankets, etc.) as late as 3rd grade. Even now, every once in awhile I will catch him chewing on paper, the television remote, or a wrapper.
In talking with other parents I have found that Tucker’s behavior was not uncommon. I also found solace in several web postings about the connection between hunger and oral fixation. Many parents of children who are on the spectrum feel incredibly isolate. Seriously, how does one admit to their ‘regular’ crowd that your 6th grader is still chewing on paper, having serious emotional meltdowns, or has sudden rocking fits in Target.
Tucker could eat supper and five minutes later he wants something more to eat. He has a double-whammy here. He can’t always register that he is full (this is covered in another post) AND having something in his mouth provides a sense of relief. He also has a tendency to rub or play with the area around his mouth. I haven’t figured that one out – but it’s true.
In fact, two weeks ago I saw a little boy (probably around 4 or 5 years old) doing the same thing. I thought to myself, “Self…if I didn’t know better I would think that kiddo is on the spectrum. Reminds me of Tuck – appears normal…but that ‘rubbing’ is just too familiar.” Rubbing all around his mouth – not inside, but all around. His mom was a friend of a friend and she introduced herself. Her next words, “I really want to talk to you about all of the things you’ve done with and for Tucker. My son was just identified as being on the spectrum and I don’t know where to begin.”
From another person’s blog post online, “It seems like I am continually either on the hunt for food or eating, even though most of the time I am not hungry. It just bugs me when I don’t have something in my mouth and have recently started biting my lip. Aging and maturity have made this strange phenomenon subside – but it was one of the most difficult things for me to understand.”
Thank goodness Tucker hasn’t started biting his lip – and in fact, age and maturity have allowed it to subside a bit. In the meantime – instead of fighting against the behavior, we allow him all the apples he can eat. Trust me, this is a lot of apples. If he HAS to have something in his mouth to feel soothed – well, then I want it to be healthy! We don’t often keep chips or candy around – because he would go for that.
In nearly all of our experiences, I have found instead of arguing it’s easier to just give him a choice – a choice that doesn’t harm him.
It’s just easier that way…for all of us.