The Chew

My boys, like many autistic kids, are always sticking things in their mouths.  On more than one occasion, I caught Gaston (seven years old) chewing on a tyre from a Lego set as if it were a piece of gum.  The real trouble-maker, however, is Rémi (age six).

Rémi is always mouthing stuff.  He's put teeth marks in all our nice wooden furniture.  He's chewed the paint of the window handles in his room.  He's bitten Anne (my wife) and me several times, as though sinking his teeth into our shoulders enhances the warm, fuzzy feeling of a tight hug from a parent.  I can't let him use an iPod anymore because he's already chewed up several ear buds.  His latest thing is chewing on the collar of his shirt.  On more then one occasion, he's picked up 24 hour bugs which nobody else in the family has caught;  I suspect he's made himself sick drinking dirty rainwater from the garden.

In short, Rémi is always biting, licking or chewing something.  It's a problem, and we need to fix it.  As with all these behavioural (and seemingly insurmountable) problems, we discussed it with his teachers at Western Autistic School, and they had a number of solutions as though they'd dealt with the problem a thousand times before.

My favourite solution is the chew.  This was given to Rémi by the occupational therapist, as part of a new "oral motor program".  It's essentially an indestructible tube of silicon which makes a satisfying squeaking noise when chewed.    The teachers offer it to him before lunch and play times, he chews it for a few minutes and then he gives it to an adult.  Similarly, whenever they catch him chewing on his shirt, they offer him a few minutes with the chew and he hands it back when he's done.  I've seen him use it at home:  it seems to me that his brain turns off completely while he's chewing, he gets bored after a few seconds, and he moves on.

The theory is to satisfy his primal need to chew stuff.  He still seems to prefer chewing on our wooden furniture and remote controls, though.

Oral motor programs must be commonplace.  If you google "chewlery", you'll find dozens of online shops catering to disabled children, selling (ugly) jewelry which is specially designed to be worn by children and chewed on.

These programs might not work straight away, but I think Rémi will eventually learn that chewing on some things is okay and other things is not.  We just need to gradually change his preferences.

Maybe we'll even get our hands on some of that god awful chewlery.