Incorporating yummy treats into your oral motor therapy sessions is a great way to spark interest and increase attention. As long as there are no food allergies, the following goodies will sweeten your efforts to improve tongue elevation, tongue lateralization, oral awareness, lip closure, tongue strength, and much more.
Most brands will do, but Dum Dums are my favorite. They’re not too big, not too small, but just the right size. And as you can see from the list of ideas and activities below – very versatile! I give my kids two flavor options and let them pick one to work with. Too many options can be overwhelming, but two choices is just enough to give them some control over the situation and to let them have a more active role in what we’re doing.
You can use always use lollipops on their own. But for my kids who have sensory integration issues, I like to use the Z-Vibe with the Popette Tip for additional tactile and proprioceptive input. The Z-Vibe is a vibratory oral motor tool that helps increase focus and draw more attention to specific parts of the mouth, and the Popette Tip is an adapter that lets you use it with lollipops, Toothettes, or DentaSwabs.
• For lip strength: have the child round his lips around the lollipop and squeeze. Repeat 3 times. To increase the difficulty, have him squeeze and hold for 3 seconds.
• For lip extension: hold the lollipop just in front of the mouth. Have the child purse his lips to kiss the lollipop. Repeat 3-5 times.
• For lip movement and lip closure: hold the lollipop just in front of the lips and off to one side. Instruct the individual to purse the lips for a kiss, then slide the kiss over to touch the lollipop. Repeat on both sides 3 times.
• For tongue awareness: gently press the lollipop onto the surface of the tongue and release. Repeat 3 times.
• For tongue strength, gently press the lollipop onto the surface of the tongue. Instruct the child to push against the lollipop with his tongue for resistance. Repeat 3 times.
• For tongue movement: rub the lollipop around the lips so that they’re sticky. Have the child lick the taste off with his tongue (not the lips). This is a great way to get the tongue moving AND to practice removing food particles from the lips.
• For tongue lateralization: rub the lollipop in one corner of the mouth and then in the other. Have the child lick it off both corners and then repeat to get the tongue moving from side to side.
• For tongue and jaw dissociation: have the child stick out his tongue to touch the lollipop (without touching the teeth or lips). Repeat twice more.
• For cheek awareness: rub the lollipop inside the cheek area on both sides.
• For cheek strength: put a lollipop in the cheek area. Instruct the child to tighten his cheek around it. Relax and repeat 3 times, then move to the other cheek.
A must-have for my therapy sessions. I always have a zip-loc of cheerios in my speech bag. Candy Buttons also work well.
• Place a cheerio on the tip of the tongue. Have the child touch the cheerio to his alveolar ridge (the roof of the mouth right behind the upper front teeth). Have him hold it there for as long as he can, working up to 30 seconds. The cheerio acts as a tactile cue and an incentive for tongue tip elevation.
• I like to use the Fine Tip with the Z-Vibe to make this easier – place a cheerio on the end of the Fine Tip and touch it to the alveolar ridge. Instruct the individual to hold it there with his tongue.
• You can also place a cheerio on the back of the tongue as a tactile cue for back of the tongue elevation.
Peanut butter is a great reinforcer. You can also use anything sticky like nutella, marshmallow fluff, etc.
• Put peanut butter on whatever speech tool you’re using to increase oral acceptance.
• For tongue strength, put a dab of peanut butter in the roof of the child’s mouth. Have him suck it off to really work the tongue.
• You can also put a dab of PB anywhere in the mouth – in the cheeks to practice food removal, on the alveolar ridge for tongue elevation, in the corners of the mouth for tongue lateralization, etc.
• Let the child lick the back of the spoon for tongue and jaw dissociation.
• Drinking out of a straw is one of the BEST oral motor workouts you can do. If I have a child in therapy with low tone or tongue protrusion/thrust, the first thing I do is put them on straws (with a Lip Blok). Try drinking from a straw right now, paying attention to how it forces your tongue to retract, your cheeks to tighten, and your lips to close.
• To get the most out of drinking from a straw, use a Lip Blok to make sure the child isn’t biting on the straw for stability or putting the straw too far into the mouth. You want just a small portion inside the mouth for correct oral posture and to make the lips, tongue, and cheeks work harder. Check out the cheeks and lips really working in the picture above!
• To increase the difficulty, you can also use thicker liquids. Try milkshakes, juice mixed with applesauce, or any liquid thickened.
• To build jaw strength, incorporate harder-to-chew foods into your child’s diet, such as carrots, celery, apples, chewy foods, etc. This is also an effective strategy for children who grind their teeth or bite their hands, knuckles, shirts, etc. But make sure that they’re fully chewing the food. Take a bite of whatever they’re eating and count how many chews it takes to completely break it down. Then count with them to help them get there.
• Dip any tools you’re using in cold drinks, slushies, etc. The cold helps increase attention.
• Don’t be afraid to get messy!
What food items do you use in therapy? Feel free to share in the comments!