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Olfactory System

Olfactory System 

Definition: The olfactory system is our sense of smell. The main function of the olfactory system is to detect and identify molecules in the air. The olfactory system works closely alongside the gustatory system in order to perceive flavors when eating. 

Over-responsiveness: a person who is over-responsive to olfactory stimuli often shows a strong reaction to smells that others may not even notice, sometimes to the point of nausea or gagging. They may become avoidant of public restrooms or cafeterias due to various odors. They may also be selective in what they are willing to eat based upon a food’s smell. 

Under-responsiveness: when a person is under-responsive to olfactory input, they may demonstrate little to no response to strong smells. They may have difficulty detecting harmful scents, such as cleaning supplies or expired foods. 

Sensory Seeker: an olfactory “sensory seeker” may show a strong desire to smell objects (toys, clothing, foods, markers/crayons, etc.). They may enjoy strong scents such as perfumes/colognes, markers, soaps, etc. 

How does this impact daily life: When a child is under-responsive to olfactory stimuli, or is an olfactory “seeker” they may be more at risk of consuming unsafe or non-food items due to a lack of perception of unsafe smells. A child that is over-responsive to olfactory stimuli may be a picky eater, or struggle to be in the kitchen when food is being prepared. They may also avoid large settings such as the school cafeteria due to odors, which can impact social participation. 

Over-responsiveness Strategies: 

-Limit heavy scents such as perfumes/colognes, candles, or air fresheners in the child’s room, as they can be overwhelming or distressing. 

-Gradual exposure of different scents, to the child’s tolerance. This can be done through having un-lit candles open in the room for a faint scent, allowing the child to spray perfume/cologne in an outdoor area to decrease the intensity of the smell, and working up to play tasks involving smells (ie. Scented markers, scratch-and-sniff stickers, etc.). 

-Gradual exposure to foods with non-preferred scents, to the child’s tolerance. This includes having the child eat preferred food or engage in play while non-preferred food is in a nearby room, then in the same room, and finally on the same table. 

Under-responsiveness Strategies:  

-Use of “alerting” smells such as peppermint or citrus to increase olfactory awareness and “wake up the nose”. 

– “Guess the Smell” activities, putting various items in container for the child to identify (ie. Flowers, spices, essential oils, cinnamon candies) 

-Take a walk around the grocery store, discussing and identifying various smells throughout the building 

Sensory Seeker Strategies: 

-Coloring with scented markers, scented fingerpaints, scratch-and-sniff stickers 

-Scented playdough, slime, or sensory bins 

-Scented jewelry (essential oil necklaces or bracelets) 

-use of “calming” scents such as lavender for regulation 

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