Dear ADDitude

Dear ADDitude: What Are Some Good Alternatives to Gum-Chewing?

“My son is constantly chewing on things; the oral stimulation helps him concentrate. He loves to chew gum, but it isn’t allowed in school. What accommodations might help?”

ADDitude Answers

Your son has found a way to improve his concentration. In 2013, a study backed up your son’s idea that chewing sharpens concentration. You can ask for an accommodation to allow your son to chew gum. Some kids’ IEPs or 504s include this accommodation. Send a letter to the school principal asking if this can be done.

Posted by Eileen Bailey
Freelance writer, author specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and autism

ADDitude Answers

Sounds a lot like my son. He’s also in seventh grade and gifted, but struggles enormously in school. He also chews EVERYTHING.

Gum may not be allowed in the general population of school, but ask that it be placed in his 504 Plan. I did this for my son in first grade. Since then, our school system is slowly going the way of allowing it school-wide because it helps focus in all individuals.

Here are some other middle school accommodation ideas:

What Works For Us: Middle School IEPs
40 of the Best Accommodations
Middle School Survival Guide
Middle School Momentum

I hope your school will provide adequate support for planning and organization – I’ve been asking our schools to help my son with his planner and managing papers at the end of each class every day for years. Every year I’m told that teachers cannot keep up with that.

Posted by Penny
community moderator, author on ADHD parenting, mom to teen boy with ADHD, LDs, and autism

A Reader Answers

Request a functional behavior assessment, and use it to design a behavior plan with positive behavior supports – which may include a way for him to chew on something. There are other things you can do to help him with his focus, too. Some ideas include:

– Check in with homeroom teacher to help organize for the day. The teacher could help put papers in proper folder to take home, for example.
– Extra day for missing assignments.
– A seat with an unobstructed view of the lesson.
– Social skills training and support.
– Lunch bunch, or whatever your school offers.
– Weekly check in with guidance counselor.
– Teachers to check agenda/homework pad for completeness and initial. You agree to initial that you saw it.
– Reorientation in class when distracted.

These are all allowable. We have them in NJ and disability laws are federal. Good luck. Your son sounds like a clone of my son, also in seventh grade. Twice exceptional children are often misunderstood. It is our job to make then understand.

Posted by Peacfldove

A Reader Answers

Ahh…seventh grade sons! Not sure what to do about the chewing, but there were a few other things we tried that helped with focus.

We have gone the route of an occasional tutor at home to help with big writing projects. It makes son/mom’s relationship much better when I’m not serving as the teacher at home. Many schools offer some sort of homework help as part of the school day or extended day.

Good luck!

Posted by K44

A Reader Answers

Gum has helped my son as well. It was written into his IEP since it’s against the general school rules. If you can’t get them to bend this rule, it may help to try some other sensory stimulating foods to see if that helps (pretzels, mints, etc.)

As a backup, while they are not pretty, oxygen tubing for hospitals works great as a an object for chewing. You can’t bite through it, and cutting off a new piece gives them something a little more sterile in their mouth. It doesn’t look as childish as a chew necklace, which is another common alternative.

Posted by Nemo

A Reader Answers

This may be a sensory need that your child needs to have met. Many of our kiddos with ADHD also have sensory challenges, which can be addressed by a pediatric Occupational Therapist – if that’s what’s going on. Having those sensory needs met can greatly help them focus, stay calm, and pay attention.

Finding something acceptable for your child to chew on is the trick! If you can get chewing gum or snacks written into an IEP or 504, that can help. (It was a bit of a battle, but with the help of the school OT, my son had gum as an accommodation in elementary school.) If gum is not an option, a good OT should be able to help you find alternatives. Also, there are lots of different “chewing necklaces,” and some are much less conspicuous than others.

They’re pretty common tools of the trade in the OT world, but parents and kids should always have a say in what’s used, or course!

Also, if it’s not a true “sensory integration” need and more of a fidgeting thing, giving your child acceptable things to fidget with may be a good alternative. Research shows that kids who are able to fidget have better concentration and focus. Sometimes, an acceptable hand-held fidget (like a kneadable art eraser, single piece of velcro, fabric, stress ball or rubber toy) can make all the difference for our kiddos. You may be able to try different things at home to find something that works for your child before you approach the school with it. Lots of my clients’ kids have had fidget toys put into their IEPs, and my son (now 17) has since 2nd grade (they “officially” call them “manipulatives”!).

Good luck and keep us posted!

Posted by ADD_Coach_Lynne

A Reader Answers

My son is a chewer as well – he chews on his shirt collars. I have a photo of him at two years old, chewing on his polo shirt collar surrounded by girls. I guess that was a stressful situation for him!

When my son is stressed he does it, but it’s happening less and less.

At school, the OT gave him fidgets and so far less shirts are coming home chewed on!

We also switched his meds from Daytrana to Metadate and noticed the decrease in chewing as well. Some meds do increase anxiety.

Posted by 2crazykidsmomma