Janey puts everything in her mouth. This is a behavior that hasn't gotten a bit better over time. Lately, it seems worse. If she gets a new toy or stuffed animal, the absolute first way she explores it is by putting it in her mouth. Researching this, I found most toddlers stop the mouthing by around age 2. That's why there's usually a 3 and under choking warning on small toys---because by age 3, the mouthing is not as much of a problem. Of course, Janey lives in a 3 and older world. It would be literally impossible to keep every single small item out of her reach. She couldn't go to school, the boys couldn't have things they need for school, heck, even clothes for an 8 year old have small parts. Knock on wood, Janey haven't ever choked on anything, and she doesn't seem very inclined to swallow what goes in her mouth, except food. She does like to chew on things like pieces of plastic or pieces of paper, when I'm not looking, but she's also good about taking out what is in her mouth as soon as I ask her. Still, it's a big problem. It's one of the reasons I always have to stay alert and keep an eye on her, just in case. And although we've been very lucky so far, that is no guarantee that someday she might have a choking issue.
I looked for theories as to why kids with autism sometimes are mouthers. One idea is that the mouth is hyposensitive---under sensitive, and they are seeking out sensation. That makes a little sense. Janey does like hot foods and spicy foods, and she will eat things with textures most kids avoid. Another thought is it's just a very delayed developmental stage. Janey is at a toddler stage in a lot of ways, so I guess that could be it. I think it might have something to do with her teeth, too. She's losing teeth here and there, and I know that can make your mouth feel odd---a little different every day---and she might be wanting to explore the new tooth arrangement often. It also might just be a habit.
Usually, the mouthing is not actually eating non-food substances, not actually pica. But occasionally Janey will try to eat paper. I can relate to this a little. As a girl, I was drawn to eating paper long enough that I can remember doing so. Unlike Janey, I knew I wasn't supposed to, and hid doing it. I can remember it being a texture thing---the paper just felt good to chew. It's kind of cool in an odd way to be able to relate in that way to one of Janey's odd behaviors, even while I am telling her firmly to spit out that wad of paper. I still am hugely drawn to chewing ice, even though I know it's awful for the teeth. I know that, but still, I can't help wanting to crack that ice with my teeth. I try to use that in dealing with Janey and mouthing. I'm not going to try to get her to never put things in her mouth. It's more I want her to have a lot of safe things around to put in her mouth. I buy big bags of baby toys at the thrift store I go to, and wash them in hot water. There's always a baby toy around, and when Janey starts mouthing inappropriate things, I try to hand her a baby toy to chew. I resisted doing this until a year or so ago, hung up on the "age appropriate" bit, but now, I don't care. I care about developmental appropriateness, if that's a thing! Hopefully, someday, the mouthing will end. For now, it's another challenge in making the world as Janey-safe as I can.