Sipping on a hot cup of tea, chewing gum, or sucking on a hard candy are self regulation strategies for oral sensory processing you probably use in your daily life, without even thinking twice. But did you know that you can use a sports water bottle as a self regulation tool, too? Oral sensory processing tools, or coping strategies, can be an important part of anyone’s life, for self regulation and promoting attention across settings like home, school, and the community.
Using a Sports Top Water Bottle for Self Regulation
While sitting in a waiting room, waiting for your table at a restaurant, or sitting down to pay your bills, how often do you bring along a drink or snack to help maintain your regulation?
You probably don’t realize these are great sensory regulation tools, it just seems like a good idea, and has become a habit. As adults, we naturally have strategies we incorporate into our daily lives to help us regulate.
For children, these strategies may not be as obvious or innate. Here’s where using self regulation strategies including those for oral sensory processing, from an occupational therapist may help.
Related, this Impulse Control Journal from the OT Toolbox is a great resources for writing down triggers, develop strategies, and use self regulation tools to feel more organized.
What is self regulation?
Self regulation is a complex process we all use on a moment to moment basis. It involves registering and responding to your own thinking, emotions, and attention. Self regulation impacts your focus and your behavior, which in turn impacts how you receive and respond to information in your environment.
Self regulation involves the coordinated effort of your sensory processing systems, emotional regulation, and executive functioning. If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is!
Occupational therapists can help children and families, by evaluating their needs across the environments where they live, play, and learn. One of the areas an occupational therapist will assess, is your child’s sensory processing patterns to determine what, if any sensory strategies and self regulation tools may support their participation and performance at home, in school, or when out in the community.
Self regulation is a necessary tool for developing impulse control in order to make good choices.
What is sensory processing?
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In the book Sensational Kids: Hope and Help for Children with Sensory Processing Disorder, Lucy Jane Miller defines sensory processing as “a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives sensory messages and turns them into responses” (Miller, 6). The sensory systems involved in sensory processing are:
- Visual (sight)
- Auditory (hearing)
- Tactile (touch)
- Olfactory (smell)
- Gustatory (taste)
- Vestibular (movement)
- Proprioception (body position/awareness)
If you think your child is having difficulty with sensory processing, you may find this Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist a helpful place to start. This is just the tip of the iceberg in understanding sensory processing and getting help.
Here are a couple of other popular resources to learn about sensory processing disorder.
- Out of Sync Child
- The Whole Brain Child
- Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes
- Raising a Sensory Smart Child
- The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook
Oral Sensory Processing and Sensory Strategies
There are hundreds of different ways to support sensory processing when addressing all of the senses mentioned above. Let’s take a closer look at oral sensory processing and the sensory strategies associated with it.
Using oral sensory input for self regulation starts at birth. Infants and babies use their oral sensory receptors as both a source of comfort and for sensory stimulation.
Parents use pacifiers, and feeding by bottle or breast to calm and soothe infants. Babies constantly bring hands, feet, and toys to their mouth to explore. Because oral input is comforting and soothing, pacifiers and thumb sucking are hard habits to break.
As babies grow into toddlers and beyond, we see these oral sensory experiences continue to change and adapt into functional strategies that fit into everyday life in the form of chewing gum, sipping a warm drink, or snacking on a favorite crunchy snack.
These are natural examples of sensory regulation tools.
For some people, the need for oral sensory input is strong, and they may seek out this type of input in many ways. This may be the child who continues to mouth toys beyond toddlerhood, chew on clothing.
While this does provide oral sensory input for kids who need to chew, it is not functional for a child to be chewing on their shirt at school. School-based occupational therapists may be able to help make suggestions for sensory strategies that can be easily incorporated into the school day to help support student’s oral sensory processing needs.
Why Using a Sports Water Bottle Helps with Self Regulation
Using a sports top water bottle for self regulation is a common suggestion by occupational therapists. Why?
When using a sports bottle, sensory input is added through the face; The mouth, including the jaw, lips, and cheeks are powerful sensory areas.
The mouth, face, and jaw are full of sensory receptors. Using oral sensory processing tools and strategies are often a great way to provide intense or calming sensory input with a fast impact.
Oral receptors send information to the brain about taste, touch, and they also provide proprioceptive inputs through sucking.
Activating the oral sensory receptors through sucking provides intense, calming sensory input.
Sports Water Bottles for Sensory Input
Using a sports bottle during the day is a meaningful task for most of us. Kids see their peers using a sports bottle or a water bottle of some type during the school day, during after school transitions on the school bus, in the community, and in many settings. This means that the high-impact sensory strategy they are using doesn’t look out of place to their peers. (While acceptance of differences is widely accepted, it can be helpful for kids and teens to appear to be using the same items as their peers. This is true for all of us, and not just because there may or may not be a sensory need at play!)
So, what are some OT-recommended sports bottles for use as a sensory tool that have high-impact when it comes to calming supports? Try these sports bottles:
- Kids Hydro Flask with Straw
- 32 Ounce Hydro Flask With Straw
- ADIDAS Sports Bottle
- Water Bottle with Straw and Flip Top Lid
Here are some ways to provide oral sensory input:
- Use a sports top water bottle such as this one, with resisted sucking throughout the day
- Try drinking a thick smoothie through a straw
- Provide chewing gum (usually sugarless in small pieces)
- Use a battery powered toothbrush – vibration provides proprioceptive input to the oral sensory receptors
- Encourage crunchy or chewy snacks such as pretzels, bagels, carrot sticks, or stale Twizzlers
- Sucking on a popsicle or other frozen treat (These homemade lemon lime popsicles are a great way to support this need. Plus kids can help make them!)
- Blowing bubbles
A final note on using a sports water bottle as a self Regulation tool
The most important thing to think about when choosing sensory strategies for anyone, is to think about how it will fit into their daily routines. A water bottle is a great tool for anyone who needs access to oral sensory strategies, because they will be able to keep it at their desk, in their backpack, or carry it around with them.
Sensory “tricks” like this; Ones that are specifically integrated into one’s day are the most effective. Similarly, using a battery powered toothbrush on the way out the door in the morning, providing a crunchy morning snack, using a water bottle throughout the day, and offering a thick smoothie with a straw after school would provide your child many oral sensory experiences throughout the day to help meet their sensory processing needs.
This is a great example of a sensory diet, proven to be beneficial for self regulation in many people.
And, when it comes to back-to-school sensory activities that benefit the whole classroom, this is a great one! One tip is to educate parents on the sensory benefits of using a water bottle when recommending school supplies for the back-to-school season. Share how a water bottle can calm and regulate all of us!
Katherine Cook is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience primarily working in schools with students from preschool through Grade 12. Katherine graduated from Boston University in 2001 and completed her Master’s degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study at Tufts University in 2010. Katherine’s school based experience includes working in integrated preschool programs, supporting students in the inclusion setting, as well as program development and providing consultation to students in substantially separate programs. Katherine has a passion for fostering the play skills of children and supporting their occupations in school.
References: Miller, L. J., & Fuller, D. A. (2007). Sensational kids: Hope and help for children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.