Sense of smell

by Deborah

Question: I have a 9 yr old that has had trouble with smells since she was an infant and have only seemed to have gotten worse as she's gotten older.

She just recently switched schools and is in a bigger school which means stronger cafeteria smells. At her other school they allowed her to eat in the classroom with a friend. This is no longer an option now at the new school.

I've tried to help her by spraying perfume on her sleeve to avoid getting sick from the cafeteria smells.

Is there anything else I can be doing to help ease this strong sense of smell?
This is a huge problem for us when traveling and also going into public bathrooms as she vomits quite easily from strong odors.

Answer: Perhaps she can try rubbing Vicks under her nose during times when she will be in areas that have bad smells. I believe this is used by individuals that perform autopsies to avoid the smell.

She may also use lavendar oil on a tissue, but it would be difficult for her to hold it to her nose the entire time she is eating in the cafeteria.

Another consideration would be to ask your pediatrician to recommend an occupational therapist that has experience with sensory processing disorder. They may have some sensory integration techniques that could help with olfactory dysfunction.

Hope this helps!


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Background Noise " hurtful" to hear

Question: My 13 year old daughter has ADD and is on Ritalin. She also struggles with sounds. She cannot tolerate anyone chewing popcorn, loud Nasal breathing, birds chirping outside and occasionally ticking of a clock. These noises get her visibly upset, enraged and volatile at times.

She often "drowns" out these sounds by loud music, TV or loud headphones in her ears. Any suggestions/comments as to where we can get some additional help? Her Dr. has tried two additional medications that only seem to make her sleepy without any help for the noises.

Answer: It sounds like your daughter has some symptoms of sensory processing difficulties with relation to auditory dysfunction. This can cause a hypersensitivity to sounds that make them more amplified to one person than another. Sensory processing disorder has symptoms that can appear very similar to ADD/ADHD symptoms, but the causes are very different. The two can also coexist with each other.

Treatment for sensory processing challenges involves an evaluation with an occupational therapist (OT). The OT would then decide the best course of treatment. Auditory integration training (AIT) is also a treatment that can be used for dealing with auditory dysfunction, especially for hypersensitive hearing.

I also have oversensitive hearing myself and can relate to her annoyance with birds chirping, a clock ticking and the sound of people chewing loud foods. I have learned to walk away from people that are eating (unless I am eating myself then I can't seem to hear it) and turn on a loud fan to drown out birds chirping, which is most bothersome to me in the early morning.

Working with her on these and other ways to help cope with the agitation the noises cause are very important, but hopefully you are also able to get some help with AIT or occupational therapy. Good Luck!

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Tactile Defensive

by Michelle

Child won't touch paper...

Question: My 6 year old son has severe issues with touching paper. He says he only wants to touch "soft paper." When asked to show me "soft paper" he brings me magazines and books with the glossy paper.

It is the only paper he can touch without getting goose bumps or feeling wierd. This has become a huge issue with school work and I was wondering if anyone has any ideas. I have read more about SPD and while he does not always exhibit symptoms, he has in the past shown them, especially when he was a pre-schooler.

My elder son whom is 9 has issues with auditory and noise. He does not do well is a large crowded room, as he grabs his ears and wants to leave. I'm thinking they both have trends of SPD, but at this point, whatever I can do for my youngest would be best.

Answer: It’s possible that by consulting with an occupational therapist, he/she may have some activities that can be used as a sensory diet for him to help organize tactile sensory input and make him have less tactile defensiveness.

This may include having him regularly play for 20-30 minutes each day at a sensory table, touching things with different textures (e.g. beans, rice, sand, etc.)

I would recommend finding one in your area and consulting over the phone to determine if he/she would be able to help. The OT may also be able to identify other areas that could benefit.

One idea may be to do some desensitization with a reinforcement program. This would involve having him gradually touch the paper more and more, giving a desirable item/activity after each time he is willing to touch the paper.

If this doesn’t seem to help, you may try finding some thin gloves that would at least make touching the paper tolerable to help decrease the sensitivity he is experiencing and make him less tactile defensive.

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What are some techniques for working with a child with hyposensitivity to smell?

by Liliana
(Heber, CA)

Question: How can I help a 4-yr-old child with mild mental retardation that shows signs of hyposensitivity to smell, movement and oral input dysfunction?
The child seems hyper most of the time, takes everything to mouth, and enjoys smelling her own feces.

Answer: The child sounds like she definitely needs regular therapy with an occupational therapist. Usually, you can find services for little or no cost on a state or county waiver, or through the local school system's special education department.

I would start by going to the local school system to get resources and see what is available in your area. An occupational therapist can evaluate her better and determine the best treatment options. She may even qualify for other treatments as well due to the special education act.

Some things that you can specifically do, is try and provide things that are appropriate to smell and put in her mouth. Some examples, would be strong smelling foods, flowers, or books/stickers with scratch and sniff. Chewy tubes would be good for putting in her mouth.

Encourage her to smell the objects, then give lots of reinforcement for her smelling things that are appropriate, such as praise, tickles, or tangible reinforcers (stickers, small toy, small piece of food).

When she tries to smell or put anything in her mouth she shouldn't immediately redirect her to the things she can smell and put in her mouth and giving more praise.

I would make sure to always have these items available, perhaps in a small back pack or fanny pack.

You may also consider other sensory processing disorder treatments, such as using a weighted vest or blanket while she is still to help her be more aware of her body. Also, be sure to provide her with lots of physical activities, such as running, jumping on a trampoline or swinging daily.

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Sensory Seeking Behavior

by Ryan

Question: All of these symptoms are things that every kid seems to do, so I am guessing that frequency & duration play a large role. Can you provide more detail or literature?


Answer: Frequency and duration are what differentiate sensory seeking behavior from being what is considered normal.

A typical child may go to the park and love to swing, run around and go down the slide. They may play for an hour or two and then go home and be able to sit and do a sedentary activity for awhile.

For a child that is sensory seeking, 1-2 hours at the park wouldn't have even partially satisfied their need for sensory stimulation. They may come home and continue running around, jumping on furniture etc.

They never seem to be able to wind down and sleep well unless they have hours of sensory seeking behavior to help regulate the nervous system enough so that they can relax.

There seems to be an insatiable appetite for activity. They also are unable to stop when asked to do so. They might try to touch things constantly even when told not to over and over.

You may notice they are always trying to hug others, hang on their parents or can never keep their hands to themselves no matter how many times you ask them to stop. This behavior can also very often be confused with ADHD symptoms.

There are some great books that go into more detail about this at the bottom of the sensory processing disorder page if you interested in reading more technical and thorough information about it.

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Conflicting Sensory Symptoms

Question: My daughter is 6 years old. She experiences most of the items on your "tactile defensiveness" check-list, however, she actually enjoys messy play (sand box, water) and does not seem to mind getting dirty.

She also like to draw on her skin a lot with markers and doesn't mind getting paint or glue on her skin. However, she finds it extremely difficult to find clothes that are comfortable and would go naked all day if I let her. These symptoms seem to be in conflict with one another so I am a bit confused.

My daughter is also hypersensitive to tastes and smells. For example, yesterday she was eating macaroni and asked me why I "put poison in it." She said it tasted like how it smells when you get a cavity filled. I am very sensitive to smells myself and at that moment actually got a slight whiff of a smell just as she described it.

The man down the street from us is a mechanic and I think something he was doing was causing the odor. We had to close the door to keep the smell out so that she could continue eating. When she was a baby she was extremely sensitive to noise and disliked loud noises.

She now has no problem with loud noises, but is able to notice slight sounds that other people might not pick up on. Any advice you could give me would be appreciated. Thank you.

Answer: For some individuals the symptoms can be a mixture of hyposensitivity and hypersensitivity. When the nervous system is not processing sensory stimuli correctly, it may not always be predictable how it will perceive information.

The symptoms you describe could also be present in any child and does not necessarily mean there is a sensory processing disorder as we all have our own personal sensitivities to certain stimuli. If her symptoms are affecting her daily functioning then I would get in touch with an occupational therapist that has experience in sensory integration to have her evaluated. They will be able to put together a treatment protocol, such as a sensory diet, that will help to decrease the severity of her symptoms. Good Luck!

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My 5 year old cannot watch/hear mum eating!

Question: My 5 year old boy cannot watch/hear me chewing!!
This is a fairly recent occurance, but is now affecting family meals. What do we do?
He screams out and has a major tantrum.

Answer: Often when there are problems with auditory sensory stimuli, the sound of chewing can be incredibly irritating to an individual. This may be the result of having difficulties with sensory processing or simply because an individual is sensitive to sounds.

With respect to watching you chew, I am not sure why this would be upsetting, unless it is merely associated with the irritation of the sound he hears.

If this is accompanied by other symptoms of sensory sensitivities, I would recommend having him evaluated by an occupational therapist. You can read more about this by clicking on the sensory processing link above.

Other things that may help are having soft music play in the background that he likes while you are eating to help cover the sound of your chewing. Have him sit in the farthest seat away from you and making sure that you try to limit the sound of your chewing by keeping your mouth closed.

I would respond to tantrums in the same way you would at any other time and focus encouraging him to verbally communicate his frustrations.

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3 Year Old Rubs Armpits Then Sniffs Fingers

Question: Hi,
I work in a preschool and we have a 3 year old little girl who, during story time, will put her hand up her shirt rub her arm pit and the sniff her fingers.

We have never seen this behavior in our 18 years at this profession and are baffled as to the reason behind this behavior. Can you please give us some insight? Thank you, Kim

Answer: Whenever looking at any type of behavior, regardless of what it is (strange or not) the reasons for it usually depend on what happens as a result.

Are the other kids laughing at her when she does it, so that she is getting attention for it? She may just think that it smells good and therefore finds the behavior reinforcing for that reason. This could be related to a sensory issue, such as the need for sensory seeking due to an olfactory dysfunction.

Does she get in trouble and have to leave allowing her to escape story time, which she may not like? It could also be due to boredom or as a way to calm herself when she is anxious.

I'm sorry I can't say for sure as I myself have also not seen that specific behavior, but perhaps with a little bit of detective work (closely observing the environment to see what she gains from the behavior) you might be able to figure it out yourself.

I wouldn't worry too much. I have a 4 year old and it never ceases to amaze me what kids around this age will do! Thankfully, they usually outgrow it.

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Auditory Sensitivity

Question: I have trouble with kepping myself under control in a room where there are maybe 12 people all talking at once and I have to leave the room because I can't stand it. Am I auditory defensive or do I have an auditory sensitivity?

Answer: Many of us have some symptoms of sensory processing disorder, but it does not necessarily mean we have a disorder. Auditory sensitivity or defensiveness to a certain degree can be common in some individuals unless it is interfering with your daily functioning.

I personally find low frequency sounds to be very irritating as well, but they do not typically interfere with my daily functioning. If you are able to come up with coping strategies and do not have to be in those situations all the time I wouldn't worry too much.

If this is a constant battle then you may want to discuss your symptoms with an occupational therapist.

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