In case you missed the first part of this series, be sure to read up on What is Sensory Processing?
What is Gustatory Processing?
Our gustatory processing system is also known as our sense of taste. Our sense of taste helps us identify the five flavor profiles, including sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. The gustatory and olfactory (sense of smell) systems are very closely related and help us identify which foods are safe for consumption. Children who are under-responsive to gustatory processing will frequently seek oral stimulation, while those who are over-responsive have increased sensitivity to certain foods, textures or even oral care.
Some other common signs of gustatory over-responsiveness include, picky eating, preference of bland foods, avoiding highly textured foods and perhaps struggling with chewing, sucking, or swallowing. Another common theme among over-responsive kiddos is having difficulty with oral care like tooth brushing and flossing, which can lead to fearful responses to dentists appointments. You might hear your kiddo complain of toothpaste or mouthwash flavor as a sign of their oral defensiveness.
Opposite to over-responsiveness, orally under-responsive children can exhibit signs like excessive chewing of clothing, toys, or other inedible objects. You might notice when a child is introduced to a new object their immediate response is to interact with the object using their mouth. It is common that under-responsive kiddos might have low oral motor control and drool often, overstuff their mouth with food, or have difficulty chewing thoroughly.
The following recommendations from our OT team can assist your child in slowly interacting with new smells/flavors in a fun way, or give them more intense input options that allow for appropriate ways to get the input they seek out.
Strategies for Over-responsive
- Allow your child to control what goes in their mouth
- Involve kids in the food preparation process, like shopping, prepping, and serving.
- Dedicate a certain time of day or days in a week to trying new foods
- Play with, craft with or explore new foods with hands
- Try a soft bristle toothbrush or flavor-free toothpaste
- Offer new foods that share similarities (color, shape flavor, texture) with current choices
Strategies for Under-responsive
- Provide child with chewies or chewable jewelry
- Serve child crunchy textures or intense flavored foods
- Try drinking through a straw
- Drink ice cold water intermittently during the day
- Use a vibrating toothbrush
- Allow child to chew on sugar-free gum
As a reminder, your child may show signs of gustatory processing difficulties in both under and over-responsive ways. Occupational therapists look for overall behavioral themes to help establish a handful of strategies for accommodating sensory difficulties.
Stay tuned for our next blog article which will be discussing Olfactory sensory processing.
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To learn more about Sensory Processing, watch the recorded MeBe Learning Webinar, All About Sensory Processing.