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Smell, taste, and oral seeking

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    You may find that your child with autism has an over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to their sense of smell and/or taste, but there are some strategies you can introduce to help combat this.

    Smell/Taste – How It Works

    Smell travels directly to the centre in our brain that controls emotions, memory and learning. Smell is closely linked to our sense of taste. Our brains are wired so that we are able to respond appropriately to tastes and smells. A bad smell for example doesn’t go away, our brains just stop noticing it; otherwise we would be totally distracted by it.

    Problems you may see

    There may be an over sensitivity or under sensitivity to smell and taste, although it is less common to be under sensitive. When a child is over sensitive they may avoid some foods, get upset by certain smells or crave smell, become distracted by a smell in the room and gag at smells others are only mildly affected by.

    Strategies to help

    • Redirect the child to carry out some proprioceptive work activities to distract them and also calm their overly alert sensory systems
    • Allow them to have their favourite scent or an object that they like the smell of to block out the ‘offensive’ smell

    Oral seeking – How It Works

    We all use our mouths to organise ourselves. Think about how many times a day you put your hand to your mouth or put something in your mouth. Many children will be better able to concentrate and have a more appropriate level of arousal if they are allowed to chew or suck. Resistive blowing and sucking are both excellent tools for self-regulation and offer a great amount of proprioception. These activities prepare the brain and nervous system for challenging tasks such as doing homework, needing to sit for prolonged periods of time or improve overall mood.

    Strategies to help

    • Allowing children to sip water from individual sports bottles throughout the day
    • Allow the child to have a thick milkshake that they suck through a straw.
    • Depending on age of child allow chewing gum (with rules in place regarding when they are allowed this and for how long)
    • A range of chewy crunchy snacks e.g. carrot sticks and cereal bars
    • Chewy pencil toppers
    • Provide an oral sensory toy such as chewy tubes or chewellery. Be sure it is readily available at all times (attach to clothing)
    • Regular use of mouth toys such as harmonicas and toys that allow sucking or blowing.
    • A bubble mountain is a great activity idea – fill a bowl with water and washing up liquid and get your child to blow through a straw in to it to create lots of bubbles
    • Please refer to ‘useful equipment’ section for ideas for toys

    If you do have any concerns related to your child’s responses to smell or taste, please speak to one of our clinicians.

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