Oral Input Activities
Some parents complain that their children chew on their shirt collars, chew on their pencils, chew on the seatbelt in the car, lick objects frequently, are aversive to brushing their teeth, drool, refuse to get their face dirty, or don’t notice when their face is dirty. These children may benefit from more structured oral input throughout the day. Here are some ideas for ways to offer children oral input through functional activities.
Heavy work: Heavy work for the mouth can improve the strength of the muscles in the jaw, lips, and tongue.
- Chew gum
- Lick caramel off apples, dip off of chips, etc.
- Use tongue to make holes in a fruit roll up, or to pick up cheerios from a plate
- Use lips to pick up pretzels, etc., and eat or place in cup
- Eat chewy foods like dried fruit, bagels, frozen bagels, jerky, gummies, oranges, stale licorice
- Eat crunchy foods like pretzels, popcorn, apples, carrots, celery, frozen fruit (bananas, grapes)
Resistance: These resistance activities are also considered “heavy work” for the mouth.
- Offer a chewy tube to chew on throughout the day – gentle “tug of war” with chewy tube between teeth
- “Chewelry” necklaces to wear and chew on throughout the day
- Chew/suck on a wash cloth (could freeze it with water)
- Drink water through a thin coffee straw
- Drink thick liquid (smoothie, applesauce, pudding) through a regular straw
- Offer a straw water bottle or sports water bottle throughout the day
- Blow exaggerated air kisses (with puckered lips)
Vibration: Vibration is a very intense tactile input!
- Electric toothbrush (could brush teeth extra throughout the day)
- Vibe Critters
Alerting foods: These can be helpful for children with decreased awareness of their mouths (drooling, don’t notice if their face is dirty). It may be helpful to try an alerting food at the beginning of a meal to “wake up” the mouth.
- Cold/hot (ice chips, popsicles, frozen fruit, soup, warmed foods)
- Spicy (red hots, spicy chips, hot tamales, atomic fire balls)
- Sour (sour straws, pickles, lemon drops, shock tarts, war heads)
Breath control: Improving breath control may improve the length of utterances (e.g. children can say more words before needing to take a breath).
- Blow bubbles in milk/water using a straw
- Blow bubbles, blow up balloons, blow out candles
- Blow pom-poms (puff balls) across the table, for a race or towards a goal
- Blow cheeks up with air and hold it
- Blow toys: kazoo, plastic pipe ball with basket, pinwheels, harmonica
If you know a child that may benefit from Speech & Language or Occupational Therapy services to improve their oral motor skills, consult with the pediatrician to determine if an evaluation may be necessary.
Written by Kara Syrek, OTR/L, Pediatric Occupational Therapist at Neurodevelopmental Therapy Services, Inc (NTS Therapy)
Northwest Houston clinic: 713-466-6872
Katy clinic: 281-392-4221