Pacifiers and bottles are a comfort to young children and often weaning a child away from them is a gradual process and not always an easy one. Weaning an autistic child from a pacifier or bottle can be a lot more complicated. These objects are a huge comfort to them, part of their daily routine and can provide sensory input, helping them to self-regulate.
This will be a huge change in your child’s routine, so it is important to prepare them for the change in advance so that they know what to expect and it is less overwhelming. Communicating the change is so important and there are lots of ways that you can do this, for example using a social story and ‘now and next’ boards.
Sucking or chewing the teats of a pacifier or bottle can provide sensory input for an autistic child, which can help them to feel calm, in control and comforted. Try to find a sensory replacement in advance that your child can use to mirror this sensation. You might find chewies work well as they can be carried around everywhere and are appealing to look at. Take a look at what Chewigem has to offer.
It might take a bit of trial and error, but finding a drink bottle that your child can use is important. Not only do bottles provide sensory input but some children are unable to use certain bottles, such as ones with straws.
Praising your child is important. Some children might find a reward chart motivating – if this is your child then you should consider using one. Sometimes something as simple as a sticker every day is enough to help improve behaviour. At the end of the day or the end of the week you could use a simple reward as a 'well done', such as time spent doing an activity they enjoy.
For some children, using distraction might help when they are seeking their pacificier or bottle. This could range bringing out their favourite toy, talking your child in a calm, quiet space or even singing their favourite song. It sounds very simple and of course doesn't work for everyone but distraction can work really well with some children.
If none of the above works, speak to an Occupational Therapist who will be able to offer further advice and possible solutions.
Perhaps the most important bit of advice we will give you is this. Some children aren’t ready to give up their pacifier or bottle at an ‘age appropriate’ time, particularly if they are autistic. Going at your child’s own individual pace is the best way to wean them without causing unnecessary stress or anxiety. Sometimes you need to do ‘whatever works’ and pacifiers and bottles are both relatively safe stimming habits (provided they don’t break the teats), which help to keep them calm.
Besides, they might outgrow them in time anyway.
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