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First Choice Allied Health Blog

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All About Sensory Chews

Sensory chews are small, chewable, tactile sensory aids that allow children and adults to chew an object safely.

Why, you may ask, do some people need to chew? To put it simply there are two sensory-related reasons: one is to address ‘oral sensory processing’ and the other is to address ‘proprioception’.

Some people are highly seeking of oral input. That is, they have heightened oral sensory processing needs. Children who put lots of non-food objects into their mouth or have a strong preference for crunchy foods and reject all other food are often in this group. They may have been identified as having this need through a Sensory Profile Assessment conducted by an Occupational Therapist. Having a sensory chew helps increase the amount of input the child is receiving into their mouth, which would hopefully reduce mouthing of non-food objects and maybe increase tolerance of non-crunchy foods in their diet as well.

Other people chew objects if they have difficulties with their proprioceptive system.  The proprioceptive system is one of our eight senses, so if people have difficulty with this type of processing, they may misinterpret some of the signals in their body as the need to bite/chew.  Proprioceptive input can also be used as a way to regulate emotions because chewing uses muscles and is, by nature, a repetitive action which calms, regulates, or grounds the individual.

Often if a person is chewing, or if their chewing has increased, it is a sign of them finding things a little more challenging in their day-to-day lives, and whilst a therapist would want to delve deeper into the cause of the added stress, sensory chews might help reduce anxiety and stress while those investigations take place, and importantly provide a safe, purpose-designed item to chew.

Sensory chews come in a variety of intensities

Generally speaking, sensory chews come in soft, medium, and hard intensities. Some manufacturers might call them soft, tough, and extra tough but basically there is a scale with increasing resistance. When selecting a chew, it’s important to consider the properties of the things that you (or the person you care for) like to chew already. Ideally you want to find a sensory chew that provides the same intensity of sensory input as that item they are already chewing on.

Sensory chews come in a variety of forms

There is an amazing range of chews on the market designed for younger children all the way up to adulthood. There are wrist, neck, and pocket ones, as well as pencil toppers, wands, and mini guitars to name a few!

Some chews are brightly coloured with fun designs enjoyed by younger children but there are also more discreet chews for teens and adults who don’t want to draw attention to the object. Some even look like a simple black or grey tube!

How do I know if the chews are safe?

It is important to purchase good quality sensory chews from reputable manufacturers who have completed safety testing. Good quality sensory chews should;

  • be tested for compliance with all relevant safety standards (including phthalates and BP)
  • be made from medical grade materials
  • be suitable for cleaning in a steriliser or dishwasher
  • come with a safety lanyard if they are worn around the neck
  • have a protective container, or pouch, where they are stored to minimise collecting germs

How long do they last?

That’s a hard question to answer because some people have very strong jaws, some operate in a very stressed zone, and others may be using complementary sensory strategies alongside the chews - meaning the chews do not feel the full brunt!

Chews will normally lose some of their resistance over time and wear and tear should be expected. If you feel the sensory chew is not being as effective as it was when first purchased, it may be time to consider purchasing a new one or potentially a different intensity.

If a very firm chew is being destroyed quickly, it may be that a more springy chew is a better option.  If a very soft chew is being destroyed quickly, it may be that something firmer will give the feedback that the person is seeking.

It’s important for parents to routinely check their children’s chews for signs of deterioration, and if necessary, dispose of them promptly to reduce the chance of pieces breaking off. 

In Summary

  • sensory chews are small, chewable, tactile sensory aids that allow children and adults with Autism, sensory processing differences/difficulties or sensory needs to chew an object safely
  • sensory chews are either regulating or satisfying sensory needs
  • sensory chews come in different intensities and a variety of forms
  • consider the safety standard of the chew before purchase and check for deterioration when chews are being used
  • sensory chews are relatively cheap and readily available and NDIS funding may be used

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