Out of the mouths of babes

I’m outside with Philip. He’s chewing on something.

“Give it to Mama,” I say to him, my palm positioned in front of his mouth.

Philip leans over, opens his mouth and spits out the object into my outstretched hand.

When I’m not standing close enough to use my hand as a receptacle, Philip also responds to a sharp “What’s in your mouth?” by taking out the current occupant and throwing it aside. Again with the throwing, but at least the item is no longer a choking hazard.

Philip’s receptive language is improving. Yay?

Of course, YAY! I can’t complain when Philip demonstrates that he understands a simple instruction. And it isn’t all Philip’s fault. I obviously trained him to believe that dropping saliva-covered treasures on Mommy’s hand was praise-worthy or that throwing the same would get Mommy to stop harping at him.

What sundry bits have emerged from Philip’s mouth in these situations? A fragment of glass, piece of metal, foam, chunks of plastic, assorted rocks, stems, twigs, grass and other weeds, clumps of paper and portions of string. When Philip puts sand or dirt in his mouth, that’s usually the beginning of a one-way trip. He may try to spit the soil back out into my hand, but “Bleh!” is usually the only thing that escapes.

I used to think that Philip suffered from pica. I asserted that he had pica in this post. However, after reading more about Sensory Processing Disorder, I realized I was misinterpreting the behavior. Pica is an eating disorder characterized by a craving for non-food items. Philip doesn’t eat all of those objects I listed above. Instead, my little sensory seeker is getting input through his mouth. He likes to chew on items and hold them in his mouth, but he avoids ingesting them.

There is quite a range of products available for oral-motor stimulation. In fact, my dad recently bought a chewable necklace for his grandson. So far, Philip is more interested in swinging the plastic disc on its lanyard than chewing on it. Still, we’ll have to keep trying to offer alternatives that are safe and sanitary.

I’m pleased to have figured the why behind this behavior. The how to respond is still a work in progress.

5 thoughts on “Out of the mouths of babes

  1. This is also a constant struggle in my house. Depending on Joel’s mood at the moment, it can be either very easy to get him to remove the nonfood items from his mouth or very difficult. Today, he had a battery from one of our remote controls in his mouth and I had to fight with him for about five minutes to get him to spit it out.

    He has been getting a lot better about responding to verbal cues, especially if he is doing something and he KNOWS he isn’t supposed to do it. Like you said, it is a work in progress.


  2. What’s funny is my youngest (“neurotypical” child) does this. He’s almost 6 and I still constantly catch him with random things in his mouth. Colin (our autistic child) will put things in his mouth, but not the *whole* item – just one end, usually.

    But Robbie will be sitting quietly, mouth closed…and I’ll catch him chewing out of the corner of my eye. “What’s in your mouth?” He sticks out his tongue to reveal a button, twig, fingernail, staple, broken toy piece… any number of things! Like Phillip, he doesn’t eat them, just holds them in his mouth or chews on them, etc.

    Like you, I have no idea how to respond! Robbie’s easily the most articulate kid in the house, but if I ask him why he has a quarter in his mouth, he just says, “I don’t know.”


    1. I suppose an almost 6-year-old might have a hard time articulating the “why.” Maybe it’s a combination of curiosity (what the object tastes/feels like in his mouth) and good sensory feedback.


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