That Bites

CeCe sat in a large group surrounded by music and all the chatter and movement of her second-grade classmates. CeCe began showing signs of becoming overwhelmed as she rocked in her chair, started making noise, and covered her ears with her hands. There was so much other activity that no one noticed until the little boy next to her stood up and yelled, “Hey, she just bit me!”. Sure enough, CeCe had leaned over and bitten him in the shoulder. Out of frustration and being on sensory overload, CeCe bit to send the message, “I can’t take this”, since all the other cues she’d been sending were missed in a sea of second graders.

CeCe is a sweet little girl with developmental delays and is nonverbal. Similar to many children like herself, she can be become overwhelmed by environmental and sensory input. In the large group, there was a lot to take in:  music, lights, movement, chatter, and singing. CeCe’s signs of increased agitation were missed as large group was filled with active second graders and too few volunteers that Sunday. Frustration is a reason some children bite, but there are others.

  • Biting can be a sensory need; the child craves that oral input. If that is the reason, there are special necklaces and toys designed for chewing for that purpose.
  • Sometimes children are self-biters, who bite themselves for tactile stimulation.
  • A child can be just plain angry and not have the verbal skills or coping strategies to work through it.
  • Attention-seeking behavior:  Many children know the quickest way to get attention is through maladaptive behaviors.

If you have a CeCe in your class, the first thing to do is to work with the child’s parents to understand the purpose or reason of the biting. CeCe bites when overloaded with sensory input; so, in the future, during large group she might have an alternate activity or be assigned a volunteer, so she is able to leave the room when she does begin to get agitated. Once you understand a plan can be developed, make sure other volunteers and teachers working with the student prone to biting are aware of it, as well as what triggers the behavior. Much of working through biting, and any behavior, is understanding the function of the behavior, as all behaviors either get us something we need or get us out of doing something.


  1. Roger wrote on May 27, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    I am not making light of this subject, however you sometimes need to look at it with a sense of humor. I am a single man who works with Special Needs children at church. One night I hugged a young man –then 13 year old–who is cognitively 1 year old. As I was hugging him, he bit me on the neck. I went into the men’s room to make sure he had not drawn blood.

    There was no blood, but I looked at the mark and thought “Man, I’m 38 and THIS is how I get my first hickey.”

  2. Roger such a funny story…yes humor is a good thing. Thanks for sharing


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