Simon’s Story

Many adults on the autism spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensations which can affect behaviour and lives. Occupational Therapists trained in Sensory Integration know that using the mouth for chewing, crunching and tasting can work as an amazing organizer for dealing with sensory input.

Simon is a young adult with a diagnosis of ASD and severe LD. He was admitted to Cygnet Hospital Colchester’s specialist ASD unit for assessment and treatment.

Simon has been observed to regularly chew on any inedible objects like paper, puzzles or clothing. This behaviour affected his engagement in activities, and posed a risk of gastric problems and choking.

Sensory Integration theory recognises the calming effect of chewing throughout the day, which can help to focus and self-regulate. During treatment, however, Simon rejected all sensory chews that were safe for him to use. The Occupational Therapist then offered a set of tasting sessions to establish Simon’s preferences. These were crunchy snacks that exercise the jaw muscles, and tangy and spicy foods that excite taste buds like pickled onions, gherkins, horseradish and mustard. Carrot or celery sticks, orange slices and ice lollies worked as well.

As a result of these sessions, “Sensory foods” have since been included to Simon’s meals and snacks and key staff on his ward were trained to support. The results were remarkable. Within a few weeks Simon’s urge to mouth inedible objects reduced. He was able to concentrate to complete his favourite puzzles or look through a story book without an urge to chew on them.

In addition to his oral sensory needs Simon also required more proprioceptive input, actively using his muscles throughout his body. Resistance work and heavy muscle work activities completed Simon’s Sensory Diet of self-regulating activities.

We all have oral sensory habits to some extent. Some of us crave spicy or crunchy foods. Some bite their lip or chew on a pencil cap to concentrate. Working with someone that engages in chewing inedible objects can help them to find other coping mechanisms. The power of food can be truly sensational.

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