Definition: The gustatory system is our sense of taste. This sensory system allows us to differentiate between different flavors, and identify whether or not something is safe to eat.
Over-responsiveness: a person who is over-responsive to gustatory stimuli may choose bland foods over intense flavors. They may show strong reactions to foods, including gagging or vomiting. During oral hygiene, they may demonstrate avoidance of toothpaste and mouthwash.
Under-responsiveness: when a person is under-responsive to gustatory input, they may appear not to notice when food is too hot or too cold. They may also have difficulties recognizing, or appear unaware, when food is on their face. They may demonstrate little to no response to strong flavors that others usually notice (ie. Sour or spicy flavors)
Sensory Seeker: a gustatory “sensory seeker” often prefers more intense flavors (spicy sauces/seasonings, sour candies, acidic/citrus flavors), temperatures (preferring foods that are extremely hot or extremely cold), and textures (very crunchy/hard foods). This may also be seen through poor oral awareness with overstuffing their mouth. In addition, sensory seekers may mouth non-food items.
How does this impact daily life: When a child is under/over responsive to gustatory stimuli, or is a gustatory “seeker”, this can impact feeding and mealtimes. Children may be extremely picky eaters, show signs of distress while eating, gag in response to flavors/textures, or appear disinterested during mealtime. This may also impact oral hygiene, with sensitivities to toothpaste or mouthwash flavors.
-Quiet, calming music during mealtimes to support regulation.
-Allow the child to be involved in the kitchen! Involvement in meal preparation is a great way to expose children to new foods, and help them feel more comfortable with flavors and temperatures.
-gradually introduce “try-it” strategies to interact with foods. Start slowly, working from just looking at or touching the food at the child’s comfort level, followed by smelling, kissing, or licking foods.
-Play with food! This can be done outside of the mouth through messy play, building with foods, creating fun food presentations (ie. Happy face pancakes with fruit). Food play can also be done inside the mouth with activities such as balancing foods on your tongue, using food as “lipstick”, or making “shark bites” or teeth marks on foods.
-use of vibrating toothbrushes to increase stimuli to the oral cavity during oral hygiene or in preparation for mealtimes
-sipping cold ice water through a straw or massage cheeks with cold packs prior to mealtime to increase awareness within and around the mouth
-use of alerting flavors to “wake up the mouth” (mint gum, cinnamon candies, sour candy or citrus juice)
-allow the child to look in the mirror during mealtimes to increase recognition of food on their face, or show when their mouth is empty vs. full.
Sensory Seeker Strategies:
-hard crunchy snacks such as carrot sticks, pretzel rods, raw fruits/vegetables, etc.
-experiments with various spices and sauces to provide additional gustatory input during meals
-Add in berries or slices of orange/lemon into water for additional flavor to encourage increased water intake
-Chewing strongly flavored gum, or use of chewable jewelry to provide increased oral input