The Chewing Child

  • Situation

    My student chews anything he can.  He will chew anything that is on his desk like his pencil or eraser.  He chews on his shirt sometimes and often his fingernails.  What can I do to stop this behavior?

  • Summary

    Students with special needs may turn to chewing on their clothing, hands, or items in the classroom if they are not engaged, trying to accomplish a difficult task, or experiencing sensory issues.

    The first step to this problem will always be to assess the function of the behavior. Knowing the function will help to determine your intervention. In this case the intervention is based on possible sensory issues, un-engagement, and difficulty with tasks. A combination of replacement tools, scheduling of activities and task strategies are utilized as an intervention package.

    Consider the use of chewy Thera-tubing, mints/gum/or chewy candies, or chewy jewelry that the student can keep in their desk or in a location that is readily available to the student with special needs.

    Determine when the chewing happens: if this behavior presents itself during difficult work, chunk it into smaller sections so it does not seem so overwhelming and eases the stress that may trigger the chewing behavior.

    Review your student’s schedule to see if there is any wait time or down time between activities that may trigger chewing. Provide your student with activities to keep them engaged during these periods of time such as computer time, reading time, or drawing.

  • Definition

    Use of replacement tools for sensory oral motor issues, a well scheduled day that provides continual engagement for the student, and strategies for tasks that promote understanding and success serve as an intervention package to decrease chewing behaviors.

  • Quick Facts

    • Child's Age: 6-10, 11-13
    • Planning Effort: Low
    • Difficulty Level: Easy
  • Pre-requisites

    Occupational therapist availability for sensory consultation

    Check for any dental issues

  • Process

    1. Determine the possible function of chewing by conducting observations; you may want to conduct a functional analysis of behavior.

    2. If the function appears to be related to sensory issues, un-engagement, and/or difficulty with tasks consider the next steps;

    • Provide sensory oral motor tools for the student to have with him in a container.  With the assistance of an occupational therapist and consideration for student age and ability, possible tools may include pencil toppers, chewy tubes, chewable jewelry, gum small pieces of candy such as Swedish fish.

    • Carefully determine times when the student engages in the chewing – if the behavior occurs during specific tasks such as math, explore chunking the work so it does not appear overwhelming (check this site for information on chunking) and/or be sure the student receives more instruction for understanding.

    • If the student completes his work, have planned activities or items available for him.  This can include school errands, time on computer, folder activities, or favorite activities such as reading books of interest.

  • Documents and Related Resources

    Biters Chewers Pickers (PDF article)

  (sample retail site to purchase oral motor tools and chew toys)


    If you have questions or concerns about the Watson Institute’s use of this information, please contact us.