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Biting on furniture,wood,plastics
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Biting on furniture,wood,plastics

My 9 year old son was diagnosed with moderate/severe Autism at age 6. Even prior to diagnosis and continuing to even date, he will knaw, chew, bite on almost anything.  Woodwork (solid oak)furniture,casings,desks,beds, drywall, wood veneer, metal, leather, his own clothing all bear teeth marks. He does not ingest what he has chewed. He has damaged some of his teeth (2 adult teeth chipped) numerous baby teeth damaged.

My son does display other sensory issues (sensitivity to scratchy clothes, likes either to be fully covered or almost naked, no labels, no wool, ankle socks only.) Prefers bold tastes (hot sauce, mustard, chilli peppers, jalepenos). Sensitivity to loud sound or sudden noises.

Any suggestions on how to deal with this oral fixation?  
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Sounds like a sensory thing. Maybe he's trying to feel something by chewing on things.  Sally can talk about hyper and hyposensitivity.
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I would look at Sensory Integration Disorder that is usually assessed by an Occupational Therapist.  I would also recommend you google the name Olga Bogdashina and read an article by her in Autism Today about Sensory and Perceptual Differences in Autism and Aspergers.  She has a book out of the same name.  This book has a questionnaire at the back which you can complete to get a sensory profile of your child.  She is reputable, and her questionnaire is used by the autism outreach department in our city.  It sounds like your son is both over and under sensitive in different senses.  This difference will probably fluctuate throughout the day and day to day.  He will probably have difficulties with inter sensory communication and may even have perceptual problems where he cannot interpret sensory information.
I would recommend her book, if you can find the time to read it!!
What I did was look at each sense at a time starting with vision, because more than 80% of sensory information comes in through the eyes.  I had my son assessed for Irlen Syndrome, which he has.  He wears the Irlen glasses.  Although visual perceptual difficulties were not his main issue, wearing the glasses helps him keep focused for longer and helps stop him getting over stimulated through his other senses.  Olgas theory is that once a sense of out of balance other senses try to compensate for this loss and become over sensitive.  
I would suspect the chewing/biting is being hypo sensitive to taste and maybe smell as well.  Olga says that the body has to get sensory information and if other senses are shut down because they are either hypo (under sensitive), or the person has shut down their senses because of hyper sensitivity, then they have to get that information from somewhere.  Although your son is hyper sensitive to hearing, my guess is that he also appears deaf and maybe covers his ears or turns his hearing off to protect himself from unpredictable sudden noises.  That being the case you can try something like DIY ear defenders which will take the edge off noise.
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hi, my son was diagnosed PDD NOS actually quite early, about 2 1/2 years old, one of the things that made me speak to someone about this was he was biting the window sill, paint chips would be all over the floor.  Like your son he did not eat them. He also licked his hands, he was constantly licking the palms of his hands, the tv, a mirror things of that sort.    He did grow out this behavior recently.   I was constantly watching him.  Because like your son he did like certain tastes...he loves salad dressing (vinegar), lemon(he will sit and eat a lemon wedge) things like that.  I would buy salt and vingegar potato chips and put them in small bags (ziplock snack bags).  Try whatever he likes to eat, i mean i am sure you are not going to give him a bag of jalepanos but maybe jalepanos potato chips, make small bags of everything, even to take out with you just to get that to his mouth when he needs it. of course you have to be creative and figure out what will work with him and you dont want to over load him with surgar of anything so it always has to be in moderation.  my son also HATED the foaming of toothpaste and hair cuts...but my son LOVES hotwheels cars.  I  bought a ton of them and used them as a positive reward system.  He now gets hair cuts without screaming and brushes teeth with no screaming.  just some ideas good luck.
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I don't think I ever bit hard on things or caused serious damage, but some things have a taste and a smell to them. I remember exploring a little bit as a child. If you try it out by licking, not biting a variety of things, you'd be surprised what different flavors things have.  But you're on your own if you decide to sample a dirty sock or the like, lol.

Hand licking:  I licked my hands to keep them feeling moist and smooth over dry, chapped, flaky skin. Also I'd taste the salt off my hands.  But when I learned about germs, then that made me seriously rethink the idea of licking my hands.  Eventually I substituted with hand lotion.  That keeps my hands feeling smooth and I don't have to dry them out or get sick by licking them.

Interesting to see my username in the "related discussions" btw.
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The rewards system used to work with me too, but I'd get an attitude that I'd expect to be given a point or reward...  It didn't really fit in with the spirit of doing things willingly, but I guess it was a start.

I don't mind my hair being combed if they can really scratch into my itcy scalp without pulling hair.  If done too lightly, it tickles rather than feeling good.  If my hair gets yanked, then that doesn't feel great either.  What helped me with getting my hair combed was being able to fiddle with all the things on the desk. If they let me hold some of those things it helped get my attention away from having to sit down.

Nowdays I can get through pretty calmly, but it still is rare for me to get my hair cut...

Oh and btw I used to hate vinegar. I still do but I like italian and greek dressing. Go figure...
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I had to cut my earlier post short because someone came to the door.
I was just going to add to be a bit of a detective to figure out how his sensory system is working.  I found out that from using the Irlen lenses and DIY ear defenders that he became less sensitive overall.  He also has central auditory processing disorder as well and that has affected his speech and ability to read/write.  We also think he is dyslexic.
So any senses that are hypo are going to need extra information - that is why he likes strong/hot/spicy food because it gives extra information to his senses.  And try to use other ways to help support him where he is hyper sensitive.  We son now uses his ear defenders less and less.  He will still cover his ears with things like school assembly, and if he doesn't have his ear defenders on the auditory over stimulation will cause him to shut down and become deaf and find it hard to focus for some time afterwards.  But it is to a lesser degree now than a year before.
I would recommend one of the listening therapies.  There is medical clinical evidence that they have a positive effect.  We are about to start a course called Listening with the Whole Body.  The Occupational Therapist has been trained in this and my son is going to be the first in the school to try it, so I am very excited about that.  
You could also ask your Occupational Therapist about sensory toys.  Our department has alot of sensory toys that they loan out to parents.  
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Regarding haircuts, we once had to leave the barber with half a hair cut.  My parents had taken him and I got a phone call saying to come and get him because he was throwing an almightly tantrum.  I was very annoyed with the barber because he just kept saying 'I'm just using the clippers, they aren't hurting him'.  But of course, if he is tactile hypersensitive the clippers were hurting him.  What is the point of telling someone what they are saying is not true - are you living in their body??  I am also hyper sensitive to touch/tags/smells/noise etc.  I also frequently zone out and appear deaf - but I'm not on the spectrum.  So therefore, I know that if he says it is hurting, it is.  I also got into lots of trouble as a child for being 'naughty' because I wouldn't keep my clothes on or refused to wear certain fabrics.  I wasn't being naughty.  Wearing them hurt me and I couldn't understand why my parents were trying to force me to put something on that hurt and why they also wouldn't listen to me.  So my advice to all parents would be to just believe what your child tells or shows you through behaviour.  They aren't making it up, their experience is real.
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Thanks for the advise.  I'm a little confused though. Are you saying that all sensory issues are tied together so that auditory processing will affect the oral? And that limiting exposure to one will assist with controlling another?  Interesting.
I have ordered Olgas (I'm passing on her last name) thru Chapters and it should be here last week.
Liam has never done the licking thing. He is super concientous about hand washing though (little OCD). He is old enough to make some of his own snacks which would put a person with gastrointestional problems into an early grave (salt & vinegar chips with hot chilli sauce on them, peanuts with lemon juice, hot mustard on just about anything).
Hearing wise, he plays drums, likes rock/techno but high pitch sounds drive him crazy (the beeping of the dryer).
He is being assessed by a new "team" the end of January so we will make this area a priority for assessment.   Any suggestions you have on assessment or parameters would be terrific.
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i probably should have stated that he NO longer gets rewards for doing these.  the more tolerant he bacame to these things, the less we needed them until we didnt need them at all.  with potty traiining which was a big issue he would go at schoool not home so i got a bunch of hotwheels which i gave to him every time he went i put him on the potty then he only got a hot wheels when he went on the potty himself and of course i am no fool,lol then he only got one at the end of the day went he went on the potty and stayed dry all day, then it was once a week if he went on the potty all week.  anytime i do a reward type system i so to speak "ween" him off of it.  its just an inital start to help out and it has worked every time. you cant do rewards forever and some point he has to learn there are things he has to do that you just dont get rewards to.  as for the toothpaste and the haircuts with were more sensory related, i used to the reward to help it see "hey this isnt that bad " and if it was he got something good at the end of it.  I would praise him through toothbrusing and haircuts and show him his reward, it seemed to have got easier and easier till he was okay with it.  it didnt happen over nite, it took time and was fustrating but it worked and believe me im not saying it workx with everyone but its certainly worth a try.    
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Yes, that is exactly what Olga is suggesting.  That one affects the other.  It is exactly the same for blind and deaf people.  For the blind their touch, smell and taste can become hyper sensitive because they have to rely on those senses only.  For the deaf the same thing happens.  These behaviours are called 'blindisms and deafisms' and it is recognised that autistic children have these same behaviours.  Blind/deaf children also have similar speech disorders as well.  So Olga asks "are autistic children in some way blind or deaf", and the answer appears to be 'yes' from a perceptual point of view.  All verbal autistic adults report problems with sensory processing.  Temple Grandin also says she believes that everyone on the spectrum has sensory processing difficulties ranging from mild to severe.  
My son also shows the same difficulties with hearing.  He likes certain noises and also goes to drum club, but covers his ears in school assembly, group singing etc.  We are about to begin a listening therapy called Listening with the Whole Body.  His OT has been trained in this and he will be the first from his school to try this therapy.  But there is clinical medical evidence that it has a beneficial effect.  The hearing programme is tailored to each childs particular difficulties.  I am looking forward to starting that.  
It is also recognised that movement affects brain structure.  So certain movements are beneficial and help brain development.  That is why most special schools do 'brain gym'.  So you are looking for movements like crawling (buy your child the fabric tubes you can attach to play tents, trampolining and swimming are also very good.  
I am by no means an expert.  I am simply trying to find what my sons difficulties are and where abouts in the process his difficulties start.  If basic skills are not learnt then the child cannot gain higher skills, they have to go back and learn the basics.  Because those on the spectrum tend to have a spiky profile ie. very good in some areas and very poor in others, this means that their brains have not learnt some basic skills in some areas and cannot proceed, but in other areas - usually associated with their areas of interest - they are way ahead of their peers.  As the saying goes "use it or lose it".  It is medically proven that if you take new born kittens and cover one of their eyes, that eye will not develop and they become blind in that eye.  So skills have to be used to be kept and sometimes we have to force certain developments as much as we are able to.  That is my opinion anyway...
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With sensory stuff I think that if the child just knows that we believe what they tell us that that in itself calms them down because they know we are not going to try to 'force' them to do something.  I found a very good hairdresser and she talked to him and told him everything she was going to do before she did it eg. I'm going to spray your hair with water next'.  Then she would ask him if she could spray some onto his hand so he could feel what it was like.  Then she would ask if it was okay to spray his hair etc etc.  The last time we went for a haircut he even asked to try the clippers because he wanted a haircut like a solider.  He struggled, but he coped, and he had asked for it himself.  
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What I liked about Olgas questionnaire is that it shows you the main areas of difficulty for the child.  But it doesn't tell you if it is hyper or hypo sensory difficulties.  The reason for this is because you need to experiment yourself to find it out.  For example one child might play with their hands infront of their eyes because their vision is hypersensitive and their hands distracts them from other visual stimulus that would overwhelm them.  Another child might do exactly the same behaviour but because their vision is hypo sensitive and the hand movements are giving more sensory stimulus to their vision.  But once you know the main areas of difficulty it does begin to become more obvious to you.  If he has auditory difficulties it might also be worth googling Central Auditory Processing Disorder as well to see if that is relevant.  I have that and in certain environments I cannot hear the person next to me talking.  I was at the doctors recently and most waiting rooms now have a TV on.  I cannot hear a word the receptionist says because my ears just seem to have a mind of their own and tune into the TV or what someone across the room is saying.  It is very frustrating.  Sometimes I can only listen on the phone if I stick my finger in my other ear.  So for a child in a classroom environment, if they had that problem, they would find it very hard to focus on what the teacher was saying.  I also zone out auditorily and frequently my husband will have to tap me or shout my name to get me to hear him.  I don't know 'where I was mentally', but I am effectively deaf to my environment when that is happening to me.
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Thank you so much for this insight. I'm going to do a lot more reading before our new intake Jan 24th. Fascinating. Liam had undergone basic sight, hearing, tests before but nothing more extensive than that.  I'll keep you apprised out what happens.  Thank you and the others for their help.
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My son used to bite on everything. His clothes, pencils, car seat, etc.  I do believe that it was sensory in many ways.  He licked and smelled everything, too.

I do believe that it was sensory.  I also believe that it happened when he became overwhelmed.  

Now that he is a teenager he picks at his skin.  I think that the chewing was replaced by the picking.  

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Questions abound about chewing. Parents and teachers want to know why elementary children seem to chew everything in sight, from pencils and pen tops to shirt cuffs and paper. Occupational therapists want to know how long a child should chew, and what sort of device we should give them to chew on. Dentists worry about the degree of clenching and grinding they see in today’s children, and the resulting wearing down of molars and increased muscle spasm.

So why do children chew? What we do know is that today’s children are moving and exercising less…way less, and their sedentary lifestyle is causing a multitude of problems. Could there be a connection between not moving and chewing?

Think of how we lived 100 years ago. We were physical all the time… chopping wood, digging in fields, hauling water. We had to move to survive. Now (which is not very long from an evolutionary perspective) we don’t need to move. From the time we are an infant to the time we die, technology has virtually eliminated the need to move. Babies sleep on their backs, reducing the need to push their bodies up to see the world, and they are encased in protective devices that greatly limit movement. Safety measures have dramatically changed the way children play. Playground equipment of the past (high swings, merry-go-rounds, jungle gyms) is gone. Climbing trees, building forts, playing “cops and robbers” have been replaced with the virtual reality of video games. Why go to the zoo, play a sport, make up a pretend game, or even play with your pets, when you can do all of this on the computer? Food of choice has also changed. We now eat processed easy-to-chew food...again reducing the amount of work or exercise the jaw has to do to keep us fed.

The effects of this sedentary lifestyle on our children are vast and numerous: delays in neurological development, decreased ability to attend and complete tasks, attachment disorders, and emotional disconnection from friends and family, to name a few. Another, less obvious result of not moving is a huge increase in chewing… on everything!

The temporomandibular joint is one of the strongest in the body… just ask anyone that’s been bitten! If a child’s body needs to move, if their biological body is calling out for some heavy work and exercise, but they are sitting at a desk or watching TV, they will chew. Chewing helps release pent-up body energy, which is necessary to feel calm, grounded and in the Zone to learn. But too much of a good thing isn’t good either! As Dr. Carl Amberg, a dentist, says, “Too much chewing (or clenching and grinding) can cause increased tonicity of the jaw muscles and wearing down of the teeth.”

Dr. Amberg concluded that it would be better for children who need to chew to do physical work or play instead, as this is what their body is actually craving. If a child does need to chew to stay seated or focused in class, for example, then they should just chew for short durations and on an object with high resistance (chewy pencil topper, chewy bracelet).

A more effective approach to a chewing problem is to provide the child with increased opportunities for high resistive movement (e.g., biking up hill; playing tug-of-war; climbing trees; lifting and carrying heavy blocks, crates, or wood). While seated at a desk, kids who like to chew could instead be pulling on a bike inner tube attached to their desk or chair, do hand or chair push-ups, or do the “back-to-back-back, arm-loop-pull” with their neighbor.

Reducing TV and video game use is crucial! A chewer needs to move!!!

So… whenever you see a child chewing, remember – he/she is trying to get in the Zone to learn, but just needs to get Move’in instead!

Cris Rowan has been an Occupational Therapist for 20 years, working in schools for the past eight years. Cris has recently developed two new educational programs, Zone’in and Move’in, for use in schools and at home.

Zone’in is derived from sensory integration theory, and helps children get their energy “Zone’in to Learn.” Move’in is based on fine motor development theory and is designed to help children print and read by taking them on a “Printing Adventure.” You can learn more about these programs at www.zonein.ca, or email Cris at ***@****.


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