Sensory Processing Disorder: Oral Input Dysfunction

Oral input problems are not speech problems.  They are real problems that some people face for years.  Some oral input issues lead to severe and difficult consequences.  Other oral input issues are less severe but can cause social problems as children get older.  Below I will discuss a couple of oral input dysfunction problems.

Hypersensitivity to Oral Input

Individuals who are hypersensitive to oral input may avoid certain types of food because the food isOral Input Dysfunction www.autismmom.net too spicy, sweet, sour or salty.  They may prefer their food to be at a particular temperature.  They might be picky about the brand of food that they eat and struggle to eat at restaurants. Imagine how difficult it would be to eat at somebody else’s house!  Food is more of a frustration than anything to people who are hypersensitive to oral input.  Their senses are heightened and intense flavors or temperatures are far too much for their neurons to process.  Problems with eating may cause the person to be underweight.

Hyposensitivity to Oral Input

A person with hyposensitivity may be prone to drooling past an appropriate age (past the teething age).  They are more likely to chew on things that they aren’t supposed to chew on well past the age of 3.  They might chew on toy cars, sweaters, sweatshirts or anything else they can get their hands on.  They like the sensation of electric toothbrushes, as well.  Food flavors are lost on people with hyposensitivity: they struggle to notice a difference between them.

What Can I Do?

If you believe your child has sensory processing disorder please have it evaluated by an OT.  You can find an OT at http://www.spdfoundation.net.  You might also consider talking with your child’s pediatrician about getting a referral for “feeding therapy,” to address any eating issues.

Below is a list of ways you can help your child with oral input dysfunction.

  • Buy some acceptable “chewies.”  I am a huge fan of these great tools.  They make the oral motor sensory seeking much more acceptable. For a more complete listing of oral motor tools (chewies), check out my previous post about oral motor tools here: http://www.autismmom.net/oral-motor-tools/
  • Browse through food magazines and make a checklist for the grocery store.  Magazines make foods look much more appetizing than grocery stores do.  If you make a visual checklist or poster of some kind to bring to the store, then the visual reminder of the food that the child desired will be right there in front of them. Even though the grocery store version of the food may look different, you at least have the visual reminder of what it will look like after it has been made.  This can lead to some meaningful discussions about foods and how they are made.
  • Make a food book.  Again, use those magazines to make a favorite food book. Cut out favorite foods and paste them into a scrapbook album. You can organize it by food colors, food groups or favorite flavors.  Deciding on the organization can be half the fun.
  • Make a personalized “eating” social story.  Take pictures of your child sitting at the table.  Then take pictures of them eating  Then have a picture of less favored food.  Then write the script for the story:  My name is____.  I sit at the table and eat lots of foods.  I like meal time.  Sometimes I eat foods I like.  Other times I eat foods that aren’t my favorites. No matter what I at least try foods that aren’t my favorites.  I am a good kid who likes eating lots of different foods.
  • Insist on a “No Thank You” bite.  Even if a child doesn’t like the food, you can request that they do one, “no thank you,” bite (don’t push this one if it is making mealtime totally miserable, though.)
  • Straws:  Try using straws of various widths and sizes when drinking water or milk.  I bought mine at Talk Tools:http://www.talktools.com/straw-kit/ But you could just buy straws of different sizes. This straw work helps with drooling.
  • Instruments that you blow into:  Try whistles, harmonicas or horns.  I also bought a few instruments from Talk Tools: http://www.talktools.com/original-horn-kit/
  • Blow Bubbles:  Blowing bubbles is a great oral motor exercise.  It is deceptively difficult for children and a fun, rewarding thing to learn.
  • Food Chaining:  This process should be worked on with a feeding therapist but it works like this:  if you want a child to eat a particular food, work your way toward that food by chaining one disliked item of food with a liked item of food.  It is done in very small amounts. If this is something you might be interested in learning more about, check out this book from amazon.