Olfactory Dysfunction

Learn how to identify olfactory dysfunction, as a symptom of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), involving sensitivity to smells or sensory seeking certain aromas. Children with autism disorder or fragile X syndrome can sometimes show dysfunction of the olfactory sense, with most likely a coexisting sensory disorder. For this, you may  notice the child seeks to smell food or people or strongly dislikes certain smells.

I have worked with individuals that would often try to smell hands when engaged in a hand shake, try to sniff their sibling's dirty diaper or inappropriately put their face too close to another person in effort to smell that person. This can be very uncomfortable for the opposite individual, but can unfortunately be a symptom of olfactory dysfunction.

Other symptoms of
Olfactory Dysfunction:(1)

A. Hypersensitivity of the olfactory sense

  • Strongly dislikes smells that are usually undetectable by others
  • Tells others when they smell bad
  • Refuses certain foods due to their smell
  • Easily irritated by perfumes and colognes
  • Bothered by typical household or cooking scents
  • May not want to play at certain friend’s houses because of the smells
  • Determines whether he or she likes someone as a result of how they smell

B. Hyposensitivity of the olfactory sense

  • Trouble detecting unpleasant odors
  • Are prone to eating or drinking poisons because of inability to detect bad smell
  • Can’t identify food or scratch ‘n sniff stickers by the smell

C. Sensory Seeking olfactory stimuli

  • Excessively uses the sense of smelling when introduced to objects, people or places
  • Uses smell to interact with objects
  • Seeks strong odors

It is usually recommended when around individuals with olfactory dysfunction or a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, or possibly even signs of ADHD, to avoid wearing strong perfumes.

This is because of the possibility that the individual may have some sensitivity to smells and could base whether or not they like you on the smell of your perfume. It could also be very irritating and cause the child to have a temper tantrum or meltdown for what seems to be no apparent reason.

Treatment for olfactory dysfunction, like other sensory processing disorders, may include work with an occupational therapist developing a sensory diet and environmental modifications. It also could mean working with a behaviorist to decrease inappropriate social behaviors that often occur as a result of this disorder.

Some additional pages you may find helpful:

Auditory Processing Disorder
Sensory Modulation Disorder (subtype of SPD)
Vestibular Dysfunction
Proprioceptive Dysfunction
Tactile Defensiveness with hypersensitivity to tactile stimuli
Tactile Dysfunction related to underresponsivity and/or sensory seeking
Oral Defensiveness
Auditory Dysfunction

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1. Sensory Processing Disorders. Sensory Processing Disorder Checklist.www.sensory-processing-disorders.com. 1-16-10.

2. Kranowitz, C. S. (2005). The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorders. New York, NY: Penguin Group.