In case you missed the first part of this series, be sure to read up on What is Sensory Processing?
What is Olfactory Processing?
The olfactory sensory system, or your sense of smell, translates and interprets the smells and odors around you. For a lot of animals, the olfactory system is their main method of communication. Have you ever smelled something and it jogs a distant memory? That’s because olfactory information permeates the brain’s limbic system, which controls emotions and memories. In the previous article, we mentioned that the gustatory and olfactory sensory systems are very closely related. Together, they help humans establish flavor profiles and determine if something is safe or unsafe for consuming. So, it is possible that if your child is experiencing sensory sensitivity with taste, they might also struggle with olfactory sensory processing as well.
Children who are over-responsive to smells in their environment might show symptoms such as frequently gagging, especially with strong smelling or new foods. You may notice them being bothered by the smell of perfume or cologne, and might even tell others how bad or funny they smell. When visiting new places, over-responsive kids may have difficulty tolerating the smell of their friends’ houses or maybe the library. Children with olfactory sensory sensitivities can respond to household, bathroom or cooking smells with nausea or complaints of feeling unwell, or by avoiding an area or person with a smell deemed “offensive” by their body.
On the contrary, those who are under-responsive to olfactory sensory input may have significant difficulty with detecting smells. This is important to note because a decreased ability to detect smells could result in exposing oneself to dangerous or poisonous substances. You may notice children with under-responsiveness always smelling toys or objects, or misidentifying smells from scratch ‘n sniff stickers. When interacting with new objects, kids might greet the object with their nose or by immediately smelling it.
Strategies for Over-responsive
These options are intended to assist with removing scents that may be too intense or distracting, compensating for the heightened response within their olfactory system:
- Use fragrance free cleaning products, body products, laundry soap, and dryer sheets
- Avoid perfumes and colognes
- Move classroom seating away from trash
- Keep rooms well ventilated or provide access to fresh air
- Use child’s preferred scent to mask unpleasant scents
- Cover nose with mask or tissue
Strategies for Under-responsive
The options below are meant to help improve overall processing within the olfactory system through more intense input, as well as allow a person to better recognize and identify scents (for functional and safety reasons like being able to identify burnt food in the oven)
- Place essential oil diffuser near child’s bed
- Play in grass to stimulate smell
- Use scented play-dough or tactile bins
- Engage kids in herb gardening
- Craft with scented markers or stickers
- play ‘Guess the Scent’ activities with safe mediums like orange peels, coffee grounds, or pine needles
- Encourage participation in cooking routines
Stay tuned for our next blog article which will be discussing Proprioceptive sensory processing.
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To learn more about Sensory Processing, watch the recorded MeBe Learning Webinar, All About Sensory Processing.