This is part three of a series where I am sharing everything I know on the subject of sensory needs, gleaned from my experience as a Special Needs parent. To start at the beginning, click here to go to Part 1.
Next up we have Gustatory (taste) and Olfactory (smell). Full disclosure, these are the two sensory needs I know the least about, but here are some things my research has told me.
Gustatory sensitivity seems to be the one that science/medicine knows the least about. Pin-pointing what is or is not a “taste” problem is difficult to do because “taste” is related to so many other things, including the sense of smell, and the sensitivity of pain receptors in the mouth (that detect spiciness).
Many things can change and affect a person’s sense of taste over their lifetime, including: vitamin/mineral deficiencies, the use of some medications, pregnancy, and chemotherapy treatment. There is also some speculation that children taste things stronger than adults, and that we all lose some of our sense of taste over time, which could account for why children tend to be “picky eaters” and then “grow out of it.”
With very little information about gustatory sensory issues, there are no commonly used therapy products that I can point you to, however, it is worth saying that if a distorted sense of taste is affecting your/your child’s diet to the point of unbalanced nutrition or causing you/them to be underweight, it is important to speak to your doctor and get referrals to a Dietician and Feeding Therapist. Working in tandem, these two specialists can try to ensure that a person is receiving sufficient nutrition while eating foods that are a tolerable color, texture, smell, and taste.
I can attest that feeding therapy has been very helpful for our family as we navigate mealtimes with both of our children. A whole post on Feeding Therapy might be in this blog’s future!
Things that May Help Gustatory Sensitivities
- Feeding Therapy (see above)
- Children’s Toothpaste
Many people with sensitivities report that most “adult” toothpastes cause them pain, due to the intense flavors (mint, spearmint, cinnamon, etc…). But as long as a toothpaste has fluoride, it gets the job done! So don’t be afraid to switch to a gentler flavor, like strawberry, or bubble gum.
If taste is the sense we know the least about, smell is second in line! Much like taste, the sense of smell changes and diminishes with age, and can be altered temporarily or permanently by illnesses. Some people struggle more than others to distinguish between scents in general.
Anyone who has walked down the laundry detergent aisle or candle aisle at a department store can sympathize with the idea of scents becoming overwhelming. If someone you know struggles with hypersensitivity to scent, they may feel as if they are trapped in that aisle all of the time.
Things that May Help Olfactory Over-Responsiveness/Aversions:
- Creating a Scent-Free Zone
Many hospitals and Doctor’s offices ask that people refrain from wearing perfume/cologne and using heavily scented shampoos, lotions, etc… out of respect for those with scent sensitivities. A workplace, classroom, or place of worship could do the same.
Things that May Help Olfactory Sensory-Seekers:
- Essential Oil Diffusers
While some people like to claim that essential oils are miracle cures, there is only one thing that can be proven for sure: they smell nice. Great for individuals who crave comforting scents.
- Essential Oil Jewelry
Carry a comforting scent with you throughout the day.
- Scented Candles and/or Air Fresheners
Now that we have gone through the commonly known 5 senses, next week will focus on the sixth and seventh senses that particularly affect sensory-seekers and Special Needs individuals. They are: Vestibular & Proprioceptive. (Nervous about pronouncing that last one? Yeah, me too. Good thing blogs are written, not spoken!)
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