Taste and Smell


Excerpt from Sensory Incompatibility August  2010

Gustatory and Olfactory- taste and smell


. . . “No” is also the most common answer a child says who has sensory incompatibility to new foods.  Taste, the gustatory sense, and smell, the olfactory sense, overlap in function. Smell not only enhances taste, it is the first step to digestion.  When smelling food our brain anticipates eating and turns on the digestive juices in our stomach to prepare for what we will eat.  Smell can also create the opposite effect.

Most of us have particular foods we just don’t want to eat, the spice is too hot or the texture makes us avoid these foods.  Even smelling these foods can alert our gag reflex to be on the lookout.  Some people are so sensitive that seeing the food or even hearing about that food can turn them off.

There are many myths about pregnancy cravings, I don’t personally know anyone who craved pickles and ice-cream while pregnant.  Other cravings I have heard of, or wanting more of something during pregnancy.  During pregnancy more blood flow through the body and particularly in the mouth and nose heightens these senses.  It is a survival instinct, heightened sense of smell we can find the nutrients we are missing.  I for one am so glad that Pepperidge Farms’ Milano Cookies lists Folic Acid on their ingredient list,  I used that excuse a lot.

Craving, and even eating, odd things while pregnant is known as Pica.   Avoiding foods based on smell and taste can be sensory incompatibility.  A heightened ability to detected parts of a smell, the spices or vegetables, can be overwhelming to some.  Not only do foods smell, cigarettes, rubber product like tires (and now playgrounds) plants and people have their own distinct smells.  Kids with SPD  might be the first to detect a fire!

Smells also help with memory; they help us bookmark events in our lives.  When a child is processing smells more than the average nose it can be a source of distraction, food avoidance and sometimes nausea.  Smell can elicit memories, maybe the last time the food that smell came from was eaten, it tasted really badly to that person.  So instead of positively anticipating a good meal, a child could become anxious about an impending stomach ache.

Taste and eating is combined with the tactile sense, how items in your mouth feel.  We also take in temperature and pressure, as in how hard to chew or swallow.  We know the difference between ice-cream and steak without seeing it.   For sensory incompatibility, it could just be texture; cold and smooth might turn on the gag reflex and then a mess.

Proprioception is also involved in eating, the chewing part.  We don’t consciously think about how hard to chew, but we do it anyway.  A good sign that a child is having sensory incompatibility is wet chewed up clothes.  Look at the pencils of a child trying to organize their sensory processing, or erasers, all are a good clue.  A child that is in sensory incompatibility crisis could try to fix the problem with chewing, an entire sleeve might end up being the victim, wet, wrinkled and stretched out.

While it may seem worth the battle to fight over dinner, think twice about how your child sees it, how the smell and the food make him physically feel.

to read more about the seven senses click here . . .