Mmm, the Kitchen Smells Like Brownies!

My son exclaimed these words recently and I almost cried.

I have found that a significant number of children with Autism have a poorly developed, if not absent sense of smell. Many don’t even know how to actually sniff, they blow out of their nose instead of breathing in, even after being shown how to do it properly.

I had always thought it odd that at a young age my son never seemed to remark or react to strong scents we encountered in our daily lives. I frequently went back through his older sister’s baby book, searching for any notes about smell in her developmental age milestones. While the ability to recognize scent isn’t really a milestone, I was hoping for some note or comment that I could associate with an age and compare with my son’s inability to smell. But this was different.

In trying to bring a scent to his attention, the same thing would happen: no visible facial indication whatsoever that a smell registered with him, and he also blew out when I suggested he smell something I was holding in my hands.

It wasn’t until much later that I connected it to his sensory processing issues. I was amazed by the realization at just how big of a role smell plays in the ability to learn, memorize, and even socialize.

As with any symptoms on the spectrum, your child may exhibit an over or under sensitivity to smell. Think about this: does your child ever comment on cooking smells at home? Does he or she react to strong smells such as something burning? Or does he or she overreact and complain about smells all the time?

As you will learn in the upcoming Healing the Spectrum therapy program, there is a link between a hemispheric imbalance and behavior and sensory issues. These deficits and issues can be changed. In just a few short experimental sessions, I have restored my son’s sense of smell using a simple and fun exercise twice a week.

The exercise

Tell your child you are going to play a fun smelling game and blindfold him or her. Gather about seven to nine strong smelling items and make sure your child cannot see them! Items that worked best for me were ground coffee, lavender essential oil, black pepper, an onion, peppermint extract, lemon juice, spicy mustard, eucalyptus, sandalwood, and fish oil.

Have the child gently hold their left nostril closed and select your first item. Start by holding it about 12 inches from the child’s nose and slowly move it in until they can identify the scent. Stop once it is correctly identified or if  you are as close to the nostril as you can get and it cannot be named. Make sure you take notes to mark the progress of future sessions. Repeat this with all the items.

Do not be discouraged if they cannot identify the scents at this time. My own child was not able to correctly detect one item on the list for the first two sessions. I would hold an onion below his nose and he would say things like, “Candy?” It was clear that there was no presence of smell whatsoever and he was merely guessing.

Repeat this exercise two times per week, varying the scents so the child doesn’t memorize them. Your first goal is for the child to correctly identify three smells in a row. Once they can identify all of them, you’ll no longer have to perform the exercise.

Back to the brownies

When my son says things like, “Mmm, the kitchen smells like brownies!”, “What is that terrible smell?”, and “I think I smell a vanilla candle somewhere” I am indeed overwhelmed with emotion, because just a short time ago he was physically unable to sniff something, let alone identify it.

**Note: the exercises above are geared toward a right brain deficiency, which is most common in Autistic children. Left brain deficient children will respond more favorably to sweet scents in lieu of strong ones, such as banana, cherry, chocolate, pineapple, floral scents, and citrus.

4 thoughts on “Mmm, the Kitchen Smells Like Brownies!

  1. Brenda says:

    Brownies!! Be over in 2 minutes!

    My son is the opposite. He has supersmell. He can smell anything! Just like me. I can smell cigarette smoke if I’m in my car and two cars away someone is smoking in their car … and we all have our windows up! My son has always been very attracted to smells. Even bad smells. Discriminating between good smells and bad smells took some time. I’d say “oooooh, yuck!” and he would still smell the offensive odor. Now, though, he’s really good about discriminating and finding things that smell. It’s a real motivator. However, his other senses (touch, taste, visual for example) have been very slow to develop.

    Good to read you!

  2. spiritchaser says:

    Wonderful to hear from you! I find it so fascinating how children on the spectrum can have such hyper and hypo sensitivities to the same stimuli. Also, ever since my second pregnancy I am the same way with smelling smoke two cars away, or what cleaning supplies are being used in a restaurant. It’s sometimes overwhelming.

    If you’re interested, you may want to try this exercise alternating nostrils to see which side is weaker. If the left is the weaker one, use the items I listed in the footnote instead. It may take it down a notch for him and balance some of the other senses out. Though it sounds like sometimes it’s really helpful to have such a sensitive sleuth on the scene! : )

  3. Sarah says:

    Found this post sort of shocking because in my 20 years working with children with autism I’ve found it to be quite the opposite. Are you an actual researcher or is this perspective based on your personal experience? You say ‘I have found’ and then ‘significant amount,’ which suggests you’ve done a large scale study.

    • Debi Taylor says:

      Hi, Sarah! Thanks for your comment. In addition to working with my son I have seen all parts of the spectrum when it comes to sensory issues, even smell. This post was written when my experiences were based on working with children that were going through the Brain Balance Program based on Dr. Robert Melillo’s book, Disconnected Kids.

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