Child with sensory processing disorder

Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy

The Olfactory system in our bodies refers to our sense of smell, while the Gustatory system refers to our sense of taste. Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy is used as a method of treating children who have problems with taste and smell, as is one of the main issues in children who have Sensory Processing Disorder, which is common for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or not organized into appropriate responses. A child with SPD has difficulty processing and, therefore, acting on information received through the senses. This dysfunction creates challenges in performing numerous daily tasks and causes motor clumsiness, behavioral concerns, anxiety, depression, educational struggles, and many other problems. Research suggests that one child in every 20 is affected by SPD and one in every six experiences sensory symptoms significant enough to affect daily living. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder may be affected by only one sensory dysfunction or multiple senses may be involved.​

SPD is complex because some people are oversensitive to things in their environment, causing common sounds or smells to be painful or overwhelming, while others show little or no reaction to stimulation, such as not experiencing pain in extreme temperatures. Children with Sensory Processing Disorder may lack coordination and bump into things, have poor spatial awareness, and be difficult to engage in conversation or activities. 

When it comes to the Olfactory system, it may be over or under-sensitive to a child with SPD. As is stated on the Connections Therapy Center website, kids who are over-responsive may refuse to eat certain foods and may also form negative connotations associated with the smell of those foods. Children who have an under-responsive system may not detect changes in smells and therefore may sniff things with heavy or potent odors.

Children who have Olfactory and Gustatory issues as a result of SPD may have trouble recognizing certain smells or tastes. According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Network:

“A child with sensory processing disorder will have a hard time categorizing foods and other scents into their respective smells. This, just like taste, will often lead to your child being a picky eater, or will make them more likely to avoid situations in which they think they will be exposed to smells that are too much for them to handle.

Children with SPD, or similar diagnosis on the Autism spectrum, often smell many objects or complain about things that they think smell bad. This is just like any other sensory overload that your child is experiencing, only they are able to explain to you how it is affecting them. While it is hard for us to perceive how a child is affected by not perceiving how objects are moving, we all know what it feels like to smell something that makes you uncomfortable.”

With Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy, the therapist will assess the child’s individual needs to come up with a plan for reintroducing them to certain smells and foods so that they gradually become more accepting and tolerant of them. It may be used as part of a larger Occupational Therapy plan. 

According to Grow On Children’s Therapy, the child is given a “sensory profile,” and then feeding is broken down into certain steps. The site explains:

“It begins with tolerating the visual of food, then the smell then progresses into tactile play, oral play, and eating.

The program uses typical developmental steps in feeding to create a hierarchy of skills and behaviors necessary for your child to progress with eating various tastes and textures. It integrates oral-motor skills, behavioral and learning approaches, sensory processing and nutritional factors.”

Therapists may even start simply by having the child look at the food that they have a problem with, then progress to licking it, which is also called the “snake test.”

There is also research that indicates that there is a strong connection between one’s sense of smell and memory, which is also a component of Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy. For example, in a child with a brain injury, certain smells may trigger memories from the child’s past, which could help him or her to remember certain facts or tasks. 

This video offers a good explanation of how smells trigger memories:

To find a therapist who uses Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy, talk to your pediatrician or family practitioner, as he/she will likely have recommendations for therapists in your area. 

Most insurance plans cover Occupational Therapy, but you should call your provider to obtain exact specifics of the plan. Some plans may require a referral from the child’s primary physician

Have you had experience with Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy as part of your child’s treatment? Send us an email at info@thebrainpossible.com and let us know. If you are a practitioner who uses Olfactory and Gustatory Therapy, we invite you to join our practitioner registry.