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Help for Children with ADHD Who Have an Oral Fixation

How to choose a safe, effective classroom-friendly fidget to help with chewing behaviors and need for oral stimulation in ADHD children and students.

I’ve been reading the responses to my recent post, “Tell Us How Fidgeting Has Helped Your ADHD Child and Win a Set of Classroom-Friendly Fidgets,” and I see a couple of themes emerging that deserve their own conversations. The first is the fact that some of our kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have a need for oral stimulation. Next time, I’ll tackle the other emerging theme: teachers’ possible misunderstanding of fidgeting behavior.

Several other parents wrote about their ADHD children putting objects in their mouths that aren’t especially safe or sanitary, ruining clothing, ruining other objects in the environment by chewing on them or staining them, and even swallowing objects like pencil stubs. My daughter Natalie, who has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, was once one of those kids. She put toys and everything else in her mouth long past her neurotypical peers who gave up the habit around age 3. We tackled the problem with the help of Summer Barber, Nat’s wonderful occupational therapist.

One option for dealing with oral-stim seekers in a school environment is to allow the child to chew gum or suck on hard candy. Summer suggested choosing flavors that will provide stimulation  very sour or hot flavors, for example. We’ve had this as an accommodation in Natalie’s IEP since preschool. For a long time the accommodation said that the purpose was to help Natalie keep her fingers and other things out of her mouth. Now that Natalie is in fourth grade and no longer seeks out oral stimulation as she once did, we changed that to say that chewing gum will help her to focus.


Is Your Child a Jumbler? An Avoider? Or a Bumper and Crasher?


One positive about this approach is that it’s fairly unobtrusive and “normal.” Once the teacher gets past the “No fair!” factor — the other kids’ reactions to your child receiving special treatment — chewing gum is a typical, socially accepted behavior. It won’t make the child stand out as different. The negative is that you have to choose between exposing your child’s teeth to a constant sugar bath, if you provide sugar-sweetened gum or candy, or feeding her system a steady supply of artificial sweeteners, if you provide sugar-free gum. If anyone has a solution to this dilemma, I’d love to hear it!

Another approach is to redirect the child’s oral urge to an object that is made for chewing. There are many great products on the market that are safe and effective for our kids. The Therapy Shoppe offers a variety of chewable choices.

These products are safe, washable, and provide the stimulation our kids need. The downside is that these products aren’t something neurotypical children use and are familiar with, so our kids will feel “different.” Natalie started to become aware of her differences and to hate standing out as early as kindergarten, and being “the only one” who put things in her mouth was one of those differences!

Parents, let’s share information and ideas. How does your child’s school address her need for oral stimulation? What works and what doesn’t?

Updated on January 9, 2018

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  1. Your daughter sounds exactly like my kindergartner. She has not been diagnosed with add but has some signs. She does have an oral fixation that I have not been able to get any dr or specialist to help with. Did you do anything for your daughter to help with the oral fixation? Did she show add or any other symptom in kindergarten? I am at a loss and really want to help her. Thank you for any suggestions.

  2. My son has been chewing his pencil ever since he started school. He is in second grade now. He also chews his clothes, his nails, at home he even chews on his baby brothers binky. Last year I bought him a “chewy” that goes over his pencil but his regular classroom teacher found it to be too distracting because she said he made “too much noise” while chewing on it. This year he told me his regular classroom teacher actually gets mad and yells at him for chewing his pencil. I understand iir can be dangerous but I was surprised to find a child with an ADHD and anxiety diagnosis would be in trouble for such a typical behavior with someone with his condition. Today I was really upset to get an email from his special ed teacher complaining about my son chewing his pencil. This teacher has worked with him for two years now and I’m sure she knows he choose his pencil because he had a cheery last year in her class. At this point I’m a little upset and I’m not sure what to do?

    1. My son had the same issue. He actually chewed the eraser end so bad that the metal holding it on became like a razor and cut up the inside of his mouth. There’s a chewable pencil topper to put over the eraser end. It’s a tube. Wasn’t a “magic fix” for the destructive chewing, but helped immensely, and he didn’t have any cuts inside his mouth any longer.

      Penny
      ADDitude Community Moderator, Author & Trainer on Parenting ADHD, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

  3. This article has been so incredibly helpful for me. I am an adult with ADHD and my daughter (6.5) is showing signs of ADHD as well. Currently we are just working with coping techniques and not using any meds, but seemingly out of nowhere she started mouthing things. It was one thing when it was a pen or pencil while she was working or a toy she was playing with while she watches TV, but then one day she found a nerf dart on the playground and absentmindedly started chewing on it. She never mouthed things, even as a toddler, so when I asked her if her teeth hurt (incoming molars, perhaps?) or if she was feeling anxious, she just shrugged and said she was fine. I didn’t even realize oral fixation was an ADHD symptom/behavior. In retrospect this makes so much sense! We ended up buying her a silicone necklace for her to wear and chew on and it seems to help, if only because it means she isn’t chewing on disgusting things she finds on the ground outside >_<. I will definitely chat with her first grade teacher at the beginning of the year about this. Thanks!

  4. Hi,

    My son is 8 and ADHD. At birth he had a very strong sucking reflex. He had a dummy until he was 3 and started sucking his forefinger when he was 5. I got him chewelry when he started Grade 1 and he immediately loved it. He stopped sucking his finger and he now only sucks his necklace when he is going to bed at night. It is important for me to note here that he does not chew his necklace, he sucks it. He sucks it so fast and hard that it looks like his mouth is vibrating.

    However, it is crippling. If he cannot find his necklace at bed time he is unmanageable, he cannot sleep without it and the entire house is turned upside down until we can find it.

    Please, can someone comment if sucking is as common in ADHD kids as chewing? Is this still age appropriate? And should we encourage him to stop?

    Thanks

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