Gum as a Tool

Almost two years ago, I wrote about introducing Eddie to gum which turned into an immediate obsession. Even still, gum is the reason Eddie gets up in the morning and his number one request at all hours of the day. By all hours…I mean ALL…which is why we tried to turn gum into a tool.

Eddie putting money in a giant gumball machine

Gum was simply too easy for Eddie to get his hands on. Mostly, because his parents were suckers for any kind of a verbal request on his part. Due to his language delays, we are always so excited to hear a complete sentence that we immediately give in when he says, “I want gum, please.” Also, it makes him instantly happy, which we can’t resist either.

One morning as we fought the before-dawn gum battle of our own creation, we decided to invest in a gumball machine. This would serve many purposes. He would have to use two hands to find the coin slot and put in the money. He’d have to use a pincer grasp to hold the money and to turn the lever. Then, he’d have to use two hands again to open the dispensing tray and grab the gum. These were all fine motor skills his occupational therapists encourage us to work on.

Another use of this machine would be to have Eddie earn his “money” to buy gum. This could be via a good day at school, putting his plate in the sink, helping with laundry, or any number of tasks. It could be carried over to school as well to motivate him to do non-preferred tasks.

We also wanted to keep the money in his downstairs bedroom and the gum machine upstairs so he would have to go up and down the stairs to get money/ gum. This would build his stamina and increase his mobility. It also would make Eddie work for the gum instead of getting an instant handout. Our hope was he would chew a piece longer if he knew he’d have to climb all those stairs for another one.

By now, you’re probably thinking, ”Those Coleman parents are geniuses!” “What a lot of uses for gum!” “They’ve taken one of Eddie’s favorite things and turned it into an educational tool gaining him independence.” Well, that’s pretty much how we felt with the idea…extremely proud of ourselves.

Then, the gumball machine arrived, and reality is happening instead. Yes, Eddie is working on fine motor skills, but he isn’t eating any less gum because he is accessing the machine all the time, and his little sister has become a great accomplice. No, he isn’t tromping up and down the stairs because we haven’t separated the coins from the device. No, we haven’t “paid” him for anything, but instead leave a pile of coins on the counter at all times to save us time.

Surprisingly, the greatest lesson learned was one we weren’t even expecting. While at his sister’s volleyball pizza party, he located a giant gumball machine, as seen in the photo. He quickly asked for a quarter, found the slot, put it in, turned the knob, and happily enjoyed a giant piece of gum along with all the other kids. He generalized a skill, and used it in a social setting with success. Hearing Eddie ask for a quarter…just like his sisters…made it all worth it. We’ll get to those other lessons in time.