Smells are an important part of our everyday lives. A good smell can remind us of fond memories or make us crave certain foods. A bad smell can make us plug our noses and try to get away. Our sense of smell is also closely tied with our sense of taste. Smell and taste can affect our memories, emotions, and behaviors. For children with Sensory Processing Disorder, smells be be a constant source of anxiety. Having Sensory Processing Disorder often means that the olfactory system is over-responsive. The means that smells can be distracting and overwhelming. And just imagine how terrible that bad smell is to a child who can smell it ten times more than you! For children with sensitive olfactory systems, odors are more intense, and the emotional associations between different smells can be broader and more intense.
On the other hand, some children with Sensory Processing Disorder have under-responsive olfactory systems. This means that they may have to work harder to be able to identify a smell. Children with under-responsive olfactory systems may interrupt their routines in order to get the sensory input they need.
There are a few ways you can identify whether your child needs more or less olfactory input and things you can do to work with your child to provide the input that they need.
Signs of an Over- or Under-Responsive Olfactory System
There are a few habits that children may have that indicate whether they have an over- or under-reactive olfactory system. Keep an eye out for the behaviors:
- Over-responsive: Strong reactions to smells. May refuse to eat certain foods or be in a room where that food is being eaten. May decide whether they like or dislike a new person based on smell.
- Under-responsive: Doesn’t notice drastic changes in smell. May habitually smell objects with strong odors, such as soap, markers, clothing, flowers, gasoline, etc.
Fun Sensory Input Activities
Here are a few fun games you can play with your child to make sure they’re getting the right amount of sensory input.
- Guess the scent: If your child has a hard time identifying smells, try soaking a few cotton balls in different essential oils. Have your child smell each cotton ball and try to guess what the smell is. You can also use scratch-n-sniff stickers, scented candles, or foods to do a “blind smell test.”
- Recognize your child’s emotions: Your child may have a strong negative reaction when someone eats a certain food near them. Whenever this happens, acknowledge your child’s very real emotional response and work with them to build the habit of walking away from the bad smell.
- Desensitization: It is possible to desensitize your child to certain smells by introducing the smell to your child in small increments. However, remember that some smells invoke very strong emotional reactions; be sure to recognize your child’s boundaries and stop the exercise if it seems to be overwhelming or too difficult for your child.
The Connections Therapy Center
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