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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?