The main reason most Autistics chew is related to their sensory processing system, It’s very common for autistics to have sensory processing disorder (and experience difficulties with their sensory system.) Most people only know about five body senses, however there are two more senses these are called the proprioceptive system and vestibular system (controls the balance, spatial awareness).
The proprioceptive system forms sensory input that sends messages to the muscles and joints in the body, this then allows us to know where our limbs are in relation to objects and people.
When Autistics have difficulties with their proprioceptive system, it can cause difficulties with planning movements and levels of arousal. This difficulty makes it hard for the person to identify where their body parts are and to feel them as well. My daughter has proprioceptive difficulties and she will often say to me “I need to bite something” this is due to her not getting the correct sensory signals to the muscles, and her oral sensory system. Not getting the correct sensory information affects her in several ways, she will not be receiving pressure in her jaw; which will cause problems with her brain being able to make connections and organize information, and she will struggle to keep focused.
The other reason for feeling like chewing is something called sensory overload, this is where the overstimulation happens. The cause can be environmental or an overwhelming situation. When this happens Autistics will become stressed, anxious, fearful. This can present in lots of different ways.
These are some difficulties that be experienced during sensory overload:
Irritability, can’t focus
Avoid being touched, or talked to
Refuses to participate, won’t respond to people
Taking themselves away from others
Covers ears, covers eyes
Angry outbursts, crying, panic attacks
Wanting to bite themselves, things or people
Often when this happens Autistics will start to do something called self regulation, which some people call stimming (or stims) this helps to calm and regulate the sensory system.
Here some examples of self regulating behaviors, but stims are very personal to each person:
Spinning, jumping, running
Hand flapping, fiddling with hands
Chewing things, mouthing everything
Putting fingers in their mouth, biting nails
Making sounds, shouting, humming
Moving legs, arms, can’t sit still
This happens when there is a need to regulate the proprioceptive system, by regulating the system this can brings a feeling of safety, calm, organized and comfortable. Chewing is a common need for many autistics. Addressing this need is so important. How can we safely and productively support this?
Well, this can be achieved through proprioceptive activities , these activities will help to regulate the sensory system.
Proprioceptive regulating activities for adults and children:
Suck a thick drink through a straw
Chew chewing gum, or hard sweets
Jumping on a trampoline
Lots of these ideas are not mobile ideas, so I was struggling to support and regulate my daughter’s sensory system, when out and about. She would bite herself, her clothing anything she could get hold of. She was also very vocal, shouting and speaking so loudly, chewing her hair, cracking teeth together and clearly needed to chew. I didn’t want to keep giving her gum or hard sweets, due to long term effect on her teeth. So I did some online investigations around this subject. I found a product called Chewigem to help support her need to chew. Chewigem products are all safe to chew and are non toxic and silicone based. Chewigem products can be washed or even put in the dishwasher.
I love Chewigem as the products are so pretty, stylish and come in such a wide range of colors and designs. There are necklaces, bangles and pendants in the range, not only for children but also Adults.
I want to be clear this is not something that Autistics grow out of, Adults need as much support and understanding as children.
Girls Autistic Journey ♥