We are all affected by sensory input on a daily basis, but most of us can positively adapt to the environment around us with little disruption to our daily lives. For a child affected by sensory processing disorder the input they receive is much more intense, and can even be painful for them. Each person is impacted differently and to different degrees. One person may be sensitive to just noises, and another could be impacted in all area’s. One may be sensitive to food textures, and another may crave a wide variety of textures. One may be hypersensitive to sensory input, and another can be both hypersensitive, and hyposensitive, in various areas of the sensory spectrum. Someone may also be sensitive to these triggers one day, and another day may cope well with a previous trigger.
One particular area that is not often spoken of is our sense of smell and the olfactory system. Here are a few examples of how much we explore and use our olfactory system on a daily basis. Let’s pretend a friend surprised you with beautiful flowers, and naturally when they are handed to you, you “stop and smell the roses.” You admire their natural beauty and appreciate the inviting scent which leaves you yearning for more. You and your friend had plans to see a show that night, but she would love to swing by your Mom’s on the way and needed to stop for gas first. When she steps out of the car she immediately smells gasoline and explains to you that her husband typically pumps the gas for her because of the headaches the scent causes. Shortly after, you make your way to your Mom’s house, but when you arrive you can smell the wonderful aroma of garlic bread baking in the oven. WOW! It smells incredible, your olfactory system just influenced your brain that it must be delicious, and so of course your mom was pleased to share. This is how our olfactory system processes the incoming sensory input on a daily basis.
Hypersensitive to Smells
For a person with hypersensitivity in regards to their olfactory system they may…
- Strongly dislike smells that are usually undetectable by others
- Tell others when they smell bad
- Refuse certain foods due to their smell
- Become easily irritated by perfumes and colognes
- Become bothered by typical household and/or cooking scents
- Not want to play at certain friend’s houses because of the smells
- Determine whether he or she likes someone as a result of how they smell
For a person with hyposensitivity in regards to their olfactory system they may…
- Have trouble detecting unpleasant odors
- Be prone to eating or drinking poisons because of inability to detect bad smell
- Be unable to identify foods or scratch ‘n sniff stickers by the smell
For a person who is sensory seeking through with their olfactory system they may…
- Excessively use the sense of smell when introduced to objects, people or places
- Use smell to interact with objects
- Seek strong odors such as cleaning products, garlic, candles, etc.
For someone who is hypersensitive to smell they may avoid grocery stores and restaurants. They may come across as insensitive by telling you you the food you are cooking smells awful, as well as any perfume or cologne you wear. He/she may also seem introverted and/or depressed when isolating themselves away from people or places, often when avoiding olfactory sensory input. For someone who is hyposensitive to smell may have trouble detecting a scent in the room, food that has spoiled, dangerous gas leaks in the home, and have a preference for stronger odors than a typical person might have. For someone who is sensory seeking, they may use their sense of smell obsessively. They also may become very preoccupied and struggle with attempting to meet these needs consistently throughout the day.
In addition, and something to consider, is someone with Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, brain injury trauma, autism, ADHD, and other developmental disorders are more prone to develop sensory processing disorder symptoms, but in particular olfactory dysfunction.
All 3 of my children are affected in some way, and to different varying degrees. My particular youngest child is most affected by olfactory sensory seeking behaviors. Thankfully, we have found some pretty awesome tools to give him more exposure as we work in replacing the inappropriate behavior. He is most attracted to strong smells which can be odd in nature. He seeks to smell toilets after they flush, trash cans, cleaning products, his toys, but also smells more appropriate things such as food, lotions, and candles. He also does this pretty excessively throughout the day. I have learned Amazon has some creative and incredible things in finding how to help meet his needs. I have found scented theraputty, scratch n sniff stickers, a wide variety of scented pillows ( my favorite is the pizza scented one), scented stuffed animals, multiple scented bubble options, and a long list of other options to choose from too. So, if you have a curious George smelling everything, Amazon is your new best friend! I have also found some of these items in local stores as well, so be on the lookout next time you need to pick up a few things, you’ll be amazed at what you can find!