Does needing to chew mean my child has Autism or sensory processing disorder?

23rd Aug 2016

Question: I'm very new to all of this oral sensory topic.  I'm trying to understand it better as my 12 year old daughter shows significant signs for the need to chew and always has (I just thought it was teething and a phase).  The one thing I have noticed in my reading about the subject is that autism is connected to it.  Is that always true or are there people out there who just have a need to chew outside of the autism spectrum?


Does needing to chew mean my child has Autism or SPD?


Is chewing on things a sign of autism? Well, it's very common for individuals who have Autism and/or SPD (sensory processing disorder) to chew as a way to calm and self-regulate. Needing to chew doesn't necessarily mean that one has Autism and/or SPD, though. We all have sensory preferences, and oral sensory preferences to some extent.  A lot of people chew gum for instance, or bite on their pencils/pens while working to focus, or crave crunchy foods once in a while, or bite their fingernails when they're nervous/anxious, etc. (if you do a google image search of the word "anxious" - half of the images show someone with their fingers/hands in their mouths).  It can be very instinctually calming that way, similar to how babies chew to self-soothe sometimes.  

So, needing to chew doesn't necessarily mean that someone has Autism and/or SPD.  Sometimes it's anxiety, or boredom, habit, ADHD, etc.  

If you're at all wondering, though, it never hurts to see an occupational therapist (OT) for an evaluation.  They'll be able to help address any sensory needs and/or rule things out.  You may also find these articles helpful in the meantime:

Why Does My Older Child Need to Chew?

Oral Sensory Strategies for Kids Who Need to Chew

We also have lots of chew tools (including  chewable jewelry and chewable pencil toppers) to choose from.  These provide a safe outlet for biting/chewing, no matter why one needs to chew.  To view them all, click here.  And for help choosing the right one(s), check out our Chew Chart and Chewing Guide.

I hope this helps some!  If you have any other questions, please let us know.