Brainwaves, Issue 8, Oral Motor Needs

By | October 28, 2012


Dedicated to the “chewers” amongst us!

Last week the parents attending my sensory processing workshop had an interesting discussion about the needs their children had to chew or put things in their mouth.  Some chewed on their shirts, their fingers, their pencils…  This issue is dedicated to those of us who find that something in our mouth helps us to focus! …and, as I type, I am chewing on crunchy rice crackers!

Brainwaves is a monthly newsletter designed to create some “brainwaves” within my community of colleagues, friends and clients.

The last issue focused on visual processing, including information on “eye contact” and the visual ocular reflex (VOR).   There is an interesting learning triangle that occurs with the eyes, mouth and hands.  It begins in infancy when babies relax, close their eyes and suck on the bottle or breast.  Closing the eyes while sucking results in the eye muscles pulling the eyes inward…try it next time you drink with a straw…just look down, close your eyes and then suck…you can feel your eyes pull inwards!  This is important in development because it brings the eyes forward to focus.  Eventually, babies bring their hands to mid-line and begin to hold their own bottle which brings in the use of the hands.  Babies who are hyper-sensitive or hyper-vigilant and are unable to close their eyes while suckling may miss out on this important developmental step which can affect the development of focused attention.

Many folks continue to have a preference to have something in their mouth when they are focusing forward on work, sports, using their hands or feeling uncertain and anxious.  Think about baseball players and chewing tobacco, hockey players chewing on their mouth guards, … an interesting research article entitled “Athletes’ Use of Chewing-Gum as Psychogenic Aid in Sports Performance” states the following…

“It should be remembered that the purposes of chewing gum by athletes vary which ranged from promoting maximum concentration, warding-off fear, reduction of tension, building up confidence, curtailing anxiety, to prevention of dryness of the mouth.”

So, what should I do about it?

  • Don’t fight it!  The parents in the group commented on how their children’s oral needs increased or re-appeared during times of stress ie) transition into school.  Trying to take away or discourage this need usually doesn’t work.  Providing them with appropriate or socially acceptable things for their mouth can help.  Depending on the age and maturity of the child, consider things like stir sticks, straws, gum, dried fruit, beef jerky or snacks like yogurt that can be sucked up with a straw.  Often children like the “heavy jaw work” of chewy foods.  Judith Bluestone in her book “The Fabric of Autism” comments that some children prefer objects that are consistent and retain their consistency even when in the mouth.

  • It is possible to purchase items that are specifically designed for chewing such as pencil toppers, chewies, and necklaces or bracelets that are actually quite attractive!  Some such items can be ordered through or  Make sure you search “oral motor”.


  • For those children who still need help focusing forward, drinking their liquids with a crazy straw can be one way to encourage the convergence of the eye muscles on a day to day basis.


  • For those of you who are professionals or teachers, you might consider offering your student something to chew on if you are requiring them to do some focused work.  You might be surprised by the results!  Keep in mind, that in a classroom, oral motor “tools” need careful rules for use due to worries regarding germs and saliva.

Upcoming Workshops

Understanding Behavior from a Sensation Point of View held at Discoveries in Therapy, 468 Academy Road, one workshop held over two Wednesday evenings, next workshop in February, 2013; [email protected] for more information.

The Attachment Network of Manitoba is very excited to announce that Dr. Dan Siegel will be coming to Winnipeg on November 20, 2012!