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Monday, September 1, 2014
Stopping Oral Fixations in Autism
My son is 8 years old with autism. Loves to chew and manipulate drinking straws. He picks them up everywhere and puts them into his mouth. He also eats pencils and erasers. Help?
This kind of repetitive behavior is common in persons with autism. It is best dealt with through behavioral measures, often using a combination of methods such as:
- prevention (avoiding situations where straws, pencils, etc are available)
- distraction or competition (holding his hand to keep him from picking these items up; diverting his attention to another activity or item)
- and/or doing both prevention and competition (bringing along an item that he also enjoys/prefers which you find more acceptable for him to mouth. This is much like a pacifier for an infant or toddler. Or, bring something such as a squishy ball or soft toy to occupy his hands).
Another effective strategy is to steer this behavior to a more socially and hygienically acceptable version. For example, you may prefer to bring your own drinking straw to assure that he has a sanitary one rather than one he finds on the floor or ground; you may prefer paper to plastic because it softens, breaks down and soon he has no straw left, limiting his time and interaction with the straw. Both of these options may be preferable to chewing on pencils or erasers.
Many parents try these methods and feel they aren’t successful, but this is often due to the fact that these methods do not work as quickly and easily as they do with non-autistic children. Persistence is important.
Daniel Coury, MD
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University