- Education and Science
Buy Chewy Tubes (Chewies/Chew Sticks) Online
What are Chewy Tubes/Chewies?
Chewy Tubes, or “chewies,” are plastic tubes that are often used with kids with various special needs. They may be used with children who are always mouthing objects, and need extra sensory input, or with children who require a bit of extra proprioceptive input (see following sections). They are also used to help children who have difficulties chewing and/or swallowing, by helping develop their chewing skills, and increasing the strength in their jaws.
What Skills Are Developed?
Chewy tubes help develop proprioceptive abilities, and oral motor skills.
Why Do Some Children Need Chewies?
Some children with special needs experience difficulties with their proprioceptive abilities. This means they are unaware of the various parts of their bodies: where they are located and how they move. This leads to problems when eating. People without proprioceptive difficulties can sit down and eat a meal almost without having to think about it. For people with proprioceptive difficulties or impairments a lot of effort is required to be able to work out exactly how to get the food into their mouth; it doesn't happen automatically.
Some children with special needs may also have problems with their oral motor skills, resulting in difficulties chewing, swallowing, and eating. They may not have enough strength in their jaws to be able to chew food that is not mashed or pureed, or they may not have the strength in their throat to swallow.
There are also children with special needs who require a high level of sensory input. We call this "sensory-seeking." The sensory input they receive in day-to-day activities, e.g. looking at flashing toys, smelling food, or playing with shaving cream, may not be enough to satisfy their sensory needs. To get the extra input they require, they may resort to other methods. For example, they may resort to putting objects in their mouths for something to chew on. These objects can be anything that is easily accessible, from their own clothing, to toys, to things they find on the street.
All of these problems may begin to improve with structured programming, designed and implemented by professionals such as Speech/Occupational Therapists. This programming may include the use of a chewy.
What Does the Research Say?
The Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota recommend a variety of strategies that may help children with chewing problems increase jaw strength and oral motor skills. One of these suggestions is to encourage children to use a chewy tube (2008). Using a chewy tube to exercise the jaw is similar to using weights to increase arm strength. If the exercise is completed regularly, under supervision of a Speech or Occupational Therapist, there may be an improvement in the strength of the jaw, leading to the child having more success with their chewing skills. This finding is supported by the website Sensory Processing Disorder.com, which explains that chewies "...are a safe and effective tool" (n.d.) that can replace food when teaching chewing and other oral motor skills. It is not always appropriate to use food when teaching chewing skills for a variety of reasons, for example the child may be unable to swallow the food once they have chewed it, leading to possible asphyxiation. A better alternative is a chewy tube.
The website Sensory Processing Disorder.com also states that chewies may be useful for children requiring extra proprioceptive input. Having access to a chewy, and learning how to bring it to their mouth and chew on it, can help them to develop their proprioception abilities, leading to improvements with eating at mealtimes.
Carol R. Scheerer-Med (1992), conducted the original research on chewy tubes. She found that “Among school-aged children with learning and behavioral problems, a therapeutic tool found to be helpful is a "chewy."” She found chewies helped with challenging behaviours because they had a calming effect on children who used them. She also found that chewies could be used with children who constantly mouth objects to get adequate sensory input.
I have used chewy tubes with students in the past, and one particular student comes to mind. This student is a young boy with autism who was constantly seeking extra sensory input by putting things into his mouth. He would always chew on his shirts, and they quickly developed holes. He also particularly liked chewing on sticks he found in the playground or on the street. My biggest concern, was that he had chewed on wires connected to electrical appliances.
I used a chewy tube with him, and it was successful in stopping him from chewing on his shirt. I attached it to his shirt, and he would automatically reach for the chewy instead of the fabric. However, he is still often seen in the playground with a stick in his mouth. Hopefully over time, as he is reminded to use the chewy on the playground as well as in the classroom, his chewing of sticks will decrease.
When undertaking a program designed to help your child improve the skills mentioned in this article, it is best to get an opinion from a professional Speech or Occupational Therapist. They will be able to design a program specifically for your child, and show you how to implement it.
Michele (n.d.). Sensory Processing Disorder. Retrieved January 3rd, 2010, from http://www.sensory-processing-disorder.com/index.html
Scheerer-Med, Carol R. (1992). Perspectives on an Oral Motor Activity: The Use of Rubber Tubing as a "Chewy.” The American Journal of Occupational Therapy 46 4(pages unknown). Retrieved January 3rd, 2010 from http://www1.aota.org/ajot/abstract.asp?IVol=46&INum=4&ArtID=6&Date=April%201992
The Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota (2008). Oral sensorimotor activities. Retrieved January 3rd, 2010, from http://www.childrensmn.org/Manuals/PFS/ChildDev/140324.pdf (link now changed)
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