Generally when we think about sensory input to help children regulate, we go with the powerhouse trifecta of sensory processing: vestibular, proprioceptive and touch pressure input. There are times, however when you need a quicker, quieter solution; one that doesn’t require a lot of space or special equipment. Enter oral sensory input.
While oral sensory input does not have the long lasting effect on the nervous system that the powerhouse sensory inputs offer, the effects are often immediate. These activities tend to encourage deep breathing, which is organizing and regulating. One of the things we often notice as children are escalating is that they move into shallow breathing patterns, which only increases their disregulation. I like to use oral input, when a child is escalating and the use of any movement activity only increases the escalation; or towards the end of therapy session when a child still has not moved to a ‘just right’ place and/or has difficulty with transitions; or when I am trying to work with a child at a table, particularly in small group situations.
Here are some of my favorite ‘go-to’ activities. The ones I go back to over and over again, because they are so effective.
- Bubble Volcano: A clinic favorite. Fill a large bowl or bucket about ½ full of water. Add a few squirts of dishwashing detergent. Give the child a long straw, preferable a curly, crazy straw and have them blow into the water. They keep blowing until the bubbles they are creating spill over the top. This is also a fun activity for two children to do together. Place small plastic animals at the bottom, which then become hidden.
- Blower Knockdown: A very popular activity, especially with little boys. Set up small figures or animals on blocks or books. Have the child lie on his or her stomach. Then using a party blower, they can pretend to be a lizard, using their long ‘tongue’ to knock down the figures. Lying on their stomachs, helps to better regulate what can be an exciting activity.
- Straw Art Pick-up: Either you or the child creates a basic picture, for example of a tree. Pre-cut small apples, about ¾” in diameter to decorate the tree. The child then uses a straw to pick up ‘apples’, by sucking in and then places them on dots of glue to complete picture. This activity elicits precise control and attention.
- Blow Pens: We love blow pens and so do the kids. This is a great activity for the older child who benefits from a blowing activity. Our biggest challenge is finding these pens. Sometimes they can be found at Michaels, A.C. Moore, Amazon or Ebay.
- Gum: Gum can be very organizing and is a great choice during tabletop activities (drawing, writing, coloring, etc.) When I am working with a writing group of children, who are being talkative and silly; handing out gum is a quick way to bring everyone into focus. I have also used lemon slices successfully with some groups.
- Orange/Citra Sipper: This great little item is stuck into an orange and then the child sucks the juice out of the orange. Provides great ‘heavy work’ for lip and cheek muscles. Available at many orange shops in Florida, it can also be ordered from Florida by Mail.
- Blow String Pipes: While whistles of various types provide oral input, I really like the string pipes. They are quiet and require sustained breath to keep the string moving. Available from Dysphagia Plus.
- Curly Straws: The extra work involved in drinking through a long, curly, crazy straw is a great way to incorporate a regulatory activity into meat and snack time.
Next time you need a ‘quick fix’ for your child, remember that an oral sensory activity can be an effective tool to have in your sensory tool box.