Watch any of the great baseball pitchers and you will see that they usually have a wad of chewing gum in their mouth. Or how about the football players that chew on their mouth guards between plays. These athletes are using oral motor skills as part of their success repertoire. Research studies have reported on the positive effects of chewing gum on cognitive skills including alertness, attention, processing speed, and memory (Wilkinson et al. 2002; Tucha et al. 2004; Miles and Johnson 2007; Ono et al. 2007; Scherder et al. 2008; Kushiro and Goto 2011; Tucha and Simpson 2011; Hirano et al. 2013).
The term oral-motor skills refers to the use and function of the muscles of the face (lips, tongue, and jaw). Many children with special needs need additional practice and/or input in this area. Oral motor therapy works on the skills necessary for proper speech and feeding development. These skills include: awareness, strength, coordination, movement, and endurance of the lips, cheeks, tongue, and jaw. In addition, as the sports players know, oral motor tools are used for self-regulation and attention.
Addressing the oral motor needs of our students during the school day can be challenging as gum chewing is still prohibited on many campuses. Finding safe, quiet, appropriate sensory alternatives may be key. Taking oral motor breaks, such as blowing bubbles, using whistles or using a straw to blow a ping pong ball may be helpful as is using a chewy such as the Pencil Toppers or Abilitations Chewelry. Visit our website in the Oral Motor section for more options. Take a note from the pro’s playbook and start using oral motor tools as part of your child’s game plan for success!