Eddie has some sensory deficiencies that are very common with kids that are blind and/ or autistic. One accommodation he makes is putting things in his mouth. This is sometimes to explore different parts of an item, see what something tastes like (sometimes food…sometimes not), or to bite down for some “sensory” input though his mouth and the muscles in his jaw.
Last spring, while at an autism lecture, I heard about using gum as a replacement behavior for biting, chewing, and “mouthing.” I thought it sounded like a great idea. Not only could Eddie get some feedback through his mouth, which he often craves, but he can also be participating in age-appropriate behavior. What kid doesn’t like gum?
So, this fall, we introduced him to chewing gum. At first, it was like the best thing we ever did. His mood improved, and he really enjoyed the simple activity of chewing on a piece of gum. He even added new phrases to his repertoire like, “More gum, please.” We were so excited, and decided to send gum to school as well. For the most part, the gum is still working well, but it does have its drawbacks.
First of all, he goes through it at record speed. We are spending money on gum that is simply insane. He has become a true gum junky. He will chew a piece only long enough for the flavor to deteriorate, then we hear “more gum, please.” After weeks of him handing us his gum, and us sticking it anywhere handy, we finally taught him to throw it away himself. Duh, right? Wish we’d come up with that one sooner.
That led to some great orientation and mobility lessons. Not only did he learn where all the garbage cans are in our house, but he has learned them in every location he visits. After one time of showing him a new trash can, he finds it again completely by himself because he knows that he can’t have a new piece until he throws away the old one. We quickly learned that he has a knack for orientation and mental mapping; all thanks to gum.
The second problem was noted in my title: the gum…is…everywhere. It isn’t that he doesn’t always find the garbage, but he often accidentally gets it stuck to himself. Sometimes he tries to put another item in his mouth, and gets gum on that. His shoelaces were covered in gum, his sisters doll’s hair was covered in gum, and we occasionally find gum stuck to his pants. Sometimes, he pockets the gum in his mouth at night, only to wake up with it stuck in his hair, or on his arm, or all over his sheets, or like last night…on his lower back. What?!?
You’d think his parents would be smart enough to check for gum EVERY night, but that just doesn’t seem to happen. This is another case of taking the bad with the good. He loves the gum. It makes him happy. It often calms him and distracts him when necessary. So, for Eddie’s sake, and a little peace from a piece of gum, we will simply put up with gum…being…everywhere.