Today I have the exciting opportunity to share with you about oral motor and feeding tools from ARK Therapeutic!
My goal with this post is to walk you through the basics of some of ARK’s most popular oral motor products and highlight additional resources that will give you some helpful pointers for how to use each of these tools with the children in your life.
This post is sponsored by ARK Therapeutic. However, I have been a firm believer in ARK products for many years and have used them with OT clients as well as with both of my young children (and have even shared about ARK’s oral motor tools on my blog in the past), so my opinions are based on positive experiences with these products in both the past and the present.
And guess what? We are hosting a GIVEAWAY at the end of this post! So be sure to not only pin this post for future reference, but also make your way to the end so you can enter the giveaway. Alright, let’s get to it!
Your Guide to ARK Therapeutic’s Oral Motor and Feeding Tools
If you’ve been around pediatric occupational therapy or speech therapy for any length of time, then you’ve probably heard of the Z-Vibe. It’s awesome!
In case you’re not familiar, the Z-Vibe is a vibratory oral motor tool that provides varied sensory input for oral massage, stimulation, awareness, exploration, and more. It’s used to build a variety of speech, feeding, and oral sensory skills needed for everyday function. To activate the vibratory feature of the Z-Vibe, simply twist the knob end of the handle in a clockwise direction until it begins vibrating. To turn it off, twist the knob counterclockwise until the handle is no longer vibrating.
If you’re wondering what oral motor therapy is, it’s basically a type of therapy that works on the oral skills that are pre-requisites for proper speech and feeding development. What purpose does vibration serve when working on oral motor tasks?, you ask. Check out this blog post on the ARK website to find out.
When using the Z-Vibe, you can twist in several different types of “tips” onto either end of the handle (so you can have two different tips attached at once) in order to target different types of feeding, speech, and oral motor skills.
Here is an example of how you could use two tips at once: When working on spoon feeding, you could use the Fine Tip to stimulate a tongue bowl, then quickly turn the Z-Vibe around to use the Spoon Tip on the opposite end. If the child loses the tongue bowl, you can immediately flip back to the Fine Tip to stimulate it again, then continue with the Spoon Tip. So great! This example comes from the Z-Vibe Tips & Techniques book available through ARK’s website. Consult this post for several easy oral motor exercises you can try with your Z-Vibe (and even some without) right away.
Did you know the Z-Vibe comes in a variety of colors, and that there are actually over 35 Z-Vibe tip attachments available in various scents, sizes, textures, and resiliencies? Wow! Let’s look at six different types of tip attachments for the Z-Vibe and how you can use them.
Tip Attachments for the Z-Vibe:
1. The Probe Tip
The Probe Tip is the basic tip that automatically comes with the Z-Vibe when you order it, and it is super versatile. The three different surfaces (bumpy, striated, and smooth) can be used to provide different types of tactile input to various parts of the face and mouth such as the gums, palate, lips, cheeks, and tongue. The smooth side is especially good for starting out with kiddos with oral sensitivities, and then you can gradually progress to the textured sides. Or, for children with low oral tone or awareness, the textured sides can be used to provide increased sensory input to “wake up” the mouth prior to feeding or speech work. Learn more about using the Z-Vibe to address oral hypo- and hypersensitivity HERE on the ARK Therapeutic blog.
If you are only going to use one tip attachment for your Z-Vibe, the Probe Tip is going to be your best friend (and thank goodness it’s the one that comes with the Z-Vibe when you order it!). This post on the ARK blog outlines oral motor exercises that can be done with the Probe Tip (as well as with other tips), including working on lip closure, jaw grading, tongue and jaw dissociation, tongue elevation, and tongue lateralization. And watch a video demo of how to practice tongue elevation and lateralization with the probe tip in this brief instructional video.
2. Bite-n-Chew Tips
Bite-n-Chew Tips are round, chewable tips that can be attached to the Z-Vibe to practice — you guessed it — biting and chewing skills. Work on promoting a sustained bite, improving jaw strength and stability, or practicing rhythmic chewing skills with these tips. There are a variety of Bite-n-Chew Tips including three shorter ones (unscented, berry scented, citrus scented) and two extra long ones (smooth, textured). Personally, I like the extra long Bite-n-Chew Tips because they are more versatile than the shorter ones. Bite-n-Chew Tips can also be attached to ARK’s Tran-Quill Pen to provide calming and organizing oral sensory input for kids who are constantly chewing on things, including their pencils…more on that in my next ARK-sponsored post! See a demo of how to use Bite-n-Chew tips in this brief instructional video.
3. Bite Tube Tips
Bite Tube Tips are basically hollow versions of the Bite-n-Chew Tips. This allows you to fill them with soft, pureed foods in order to help children practice functional biting or chewing in order to obtain the food inside. There are three different types of Bite Tube Tips you can use — soft, soft textured, and hard textured — depending on the child’s jaw strength and texture acceptance. Similar to the Bite-n-Chew Tips, you could also attach these to ARK’s Tran-Quill Pen for a slightly different type of oral sensory experience for the child who needs to chew in order to calm or focus.
4. Brush Tips
The Brush Tips basically turn your Z-Vibe into a vibrating toothbrush and can be used to promote improved oral hygiene for children who avoid brushing their teeth due to oral sensitivities. The Brush Tips come in a blue soft version and a yellow hard version. The soft brush has more pliable bristles that can be used to practice gently massaging the gums and cleaning the teeth, while the harder brush has firmer bristles that are more similar to the feel of a regular toothbrush (though the bristles are shorter). When combined with the vibratory effect of the Z-Vibe, the Brush Tips can help children with oral sensory sensitivity/defensiveness begin to engage in oral hygiene as they work toward the transition to a regular toothbrush. Learn more about how to work on toothbrushing for kids with oral defensiveness (either hypo- or hypersensitivity) by reading this ARK blog post or watching this brief instructional video.
5. Spoon Tips
The Spoon Tips are small spoons that can be twisted into the end of your Z-Vibe. They are designed with a particular shape and size (flat and shallow) to help children learn to transition to solid foods. There are four types of Spoon Tips — soft, soft textured, hard, and hard textured. The textured spoons have a bumpy texture on the underside in order to provide increased sensory input for working on tongue stability during feeding as well as increased acceptance of food textures.
6. Animal Tips
The Animal Tips are three “pets” (cat, mouse, and dog) that can be used to work on a huge variety of oral motor skills! Some options for use include biting, chewing, mouthing, and sensory exploration. You can use the ears on the mouse and dog as spoons, and the textures on the back of the ears provide added tactile input for working on texture acceptance. The back side of each animal includes a bite block to allow children to practice jaw grading and stability. The dog has the thickest bite block (making it the easiest one to use when starting out), and then the mouse has a thinner one and the cat has the thinnest and most advanced bite block. You can order all of the Animal Tips in either a hard or soft version. Learn more about bite blocks and how to use them to work on jaw grading and stability in this post on the ARK blog or by watching this brief instructional video.
The Animal Tips are super cute and, personally, I think their greatest value is that they can be used to get a child interested in engaging in oral motor/feeding work! My 2 1/2 year old loves the mouse and, when I first introduced it to him while preparing for this post, we “played” with it while he sat in his high chair by talking to it in a silly voice, giving it kisses and then, eventually, dipping his ears in baby brother’s pureed peaches in order to eat.
If you’re overwhelmed by all the different ways you can use your Z-Vibe, that’s okay! It’s a lot to take in all at once. ARK has this Tips and Techniques booklet to guide you through all the different oral motor skills you can work on with the Z-Vibe. You can also subscribe to ARK’s blog and subscribe to their YouTube channel for more guidance. I want to add a caveat to this though and say, if you are the parent of a child who is participating in oral motor therapy, I would suggest only using the Z-Vibe under the direction of a trained therapist. Wouldn’t you hate to accidentally overstimulate your child’s nervous system or teach them incorrect oral motor habits because you decided to try oral motor intervention on your own? Booklets, blogs, and videos are helpful, but they cannot replace the supervision and direction of a trained professional.
The ARK Grabber Family:
ARK’s “Grabbers” are tools that can be used for chewing and working on oral sensory/motor skills. They can be used with children of all ages (5-6 months and older) and are extremely versatile. Grabbers can be used for a seemingly endless list of reasons for both oral sensory seekers and avoiders, such as being a safe alternative to chewing on hands/shirts/pencils, an alternative to tooth grinding, decreasing oral defensiveness and food/texture aversions, satisfying the urge to chew for children who are fed through a g-tube, and providing increased proprioceptive input to kiddos who crave it. Many children with sensory processing difficulties use chewing as a means of calming, organizing, and focusing their bodies. Because of this, ARK’s Grabbers can also be used to assist with helping children calm in general, or they can even help them increase their focus when completing tasks such as homework.
There are basically four different types of ARK Grabbers:
2. The Grabber XT – The Grabber XT is the same size as the original, but is green and made of firmer material for individuals who exert more jaw pressure or crave more intense proprioceptive oral input. ARK now also sells the Grabber XXT which, as you can guess, is even firmer than the Grabber XT. Scented versions of the Grabber XT are also available, including popular grape, calming vanilla, alerting lemon, or enticing chocolate. Scents provided added sensory input and can be helpful for increasing a child’s willingness to engage in oral motor practice, quickly adjusting their level of arousal, and/or working toward increased food acceptance.
3. The Textured Grabber – The Textured Grabber is the same size as the original, but it includes three different surface textures for chewing (smooth, circular bumps, and rectangular bumps). The textures are designed to simulate the sensation of actual food so children can engage in more realistic chewing practice using a non-food (and non-choke) item. The Textured Grabber comes in a soft version and a firm XT version (or a two-pack with one of each), as well as scented versions including berry scented and citrus scented. As a personal example, I once worked with a 2 year old who craved such intense proprioceptive oral input that he would chew through the soles of his mom’s shoes. Needless to say, I worked with the family to get him a Textured Grabber XT in order to allow him to gain that intense oral sensory input but in a safer and more hygienic manner.
4. The Baby Grabber – The Baby Grabber has the same design as the original, but with a shorter stem appropriately sized for babies. I have used the Baby Grabber with both of my own children as they progressed through the stages of oral exploration (aka – putting EVERYTHING in their mouth!), teething, and transitioning to solid foods. Not only does the Baby Grabber provide opportunities for oral exploration, pain relief, and development of the hand-mouth connection, it also helps babies strengthen their lips, tongue, jaw, and mouth as they prepare for higher level eating and speech skills. I love the Baby Grabber! This infant-sized Grabber comes in a soft version (either light blue or yellow) as well as an orange XT version. Learn how to use the Baby Grabber by watching this brief instructional video.
There are a ton more great ideas for how to help children use Grabbers for mouthing, oral motor, feeding, and speech development in ARK’s handy little book Tips and Techniques for the Grabber Family.
Can’t decide between the Z-Vibe and the Grabber? You don’t have to!
ARK also makes a product called the Z-Grabber. Basically, it’s the same as the Z-Vibe but with an added Grabber loop attached to the Z-Vibe handle. The Grabber loop can be used as either a chew tool or a handle so children to assist with holding it during therapy. The Z-Grabber essentially gives you the option of adding vibration to the original Grabber. Very cool!
While ARK Therapeutic makes many more oral sensory/motor products, I wanted to highlight the Z-Vibe and the Grabbers in this post since they are the staples of many oral motor intervention programs.
So are you ready for a giveaway or what???
ARK Therapeutic has graciously offered to team up with Mama OT to give ONE lucky winner a FREE Z-Vibe (in the color of your choice, includes a probe tip) and a FREE Tips and Techniques book!
This ARK Therapeutic Z-Vibe Giveaway will run from 12:00am PST on 5/1/2014 to 12:00am PST on 5/8/2014.
Enter for your chance to win (and earn multiple entries!) by submitting your entry in the Rafflecopter entry form below. Please be sure to read the terms and conditions in order to make sure your entry is valid.
Would you like to earn a discount on ARK Therapeutic products? ARK has created a coupon code exclusively for Mama OT readers…hurray! Earn 10% off storewide at http://arktherapeutic.com with the code MAMAOT10 between now and the end of June 2014!
If you are interested in learning more about the development of mouth, feeding, and speech skills, here are a few suggestions:
1. Subscribe to the ARK Therapeutic blog.
2. Subscribe to the ARK Therapeutic YouTube channel.
4. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND speech-language pathologist Diane Bahr’s book Nobody Ever Told Me (or my Mother) That!: Everything from Bottles to Breathing and Healthy Speech Development. It is absolutely packed with practical tips for promoting healthy development from the day your baby is born and, yes, it makes you say to yourself, Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that?! Diane recommends ARK oral motor products in her book, so I wanted to be sure mention her in this post since she has created such an incredible resource for parents and therapists! She also teaches a fantastic course on integrated feeding, mouth, and speech function, which you can learn more about on her website AgesandStages.net.
*Point of Clarification: A few years ago there were two different types of Z-Vibes – the original Z-Vibe (which was single-ended) and the DnZ-Vibe (which was double-ended). The double-ended version made so much sense that ARK has now transitioned to producing exclusively double-ended Z-Vibes. So what used to be called the DnZ-Vibe is now what you see being called the Z-Vibe. Does that make sense?