Sensory Spotlight: Olfactory (Smell)

This is the sixth installment in our Sensory Spotlight series.

The olfactory system is responsible for the body’s ability to detect and recognize smells using chemical receptors in the nasal cavity. Children with olfactory processing issues may have trouble identifying hazardous or poisonous substances, such as gasoline, or they may be able to detect very faint scents others can’t perceive. Because smell is one of the two senses associated with flavor, sensitive children may also be hyper aware of smells associated with food and cooking. You can read more about how the olfactory system works on the STAR Institute’s website.

See below for a quick guide on identifying olfactory seeking, avoiding, and discrimination issues in children.

Olfactory Seekers May:

  • Actively smell everything, even things with unpleasant odors.
  • Prefer meals or specific foods with new or very strong smells.

Olfactory Avoiders May:

  • Complain about smells that are very faint or unnoticed by others.
  • Hold their noses or gag when encountering strong smells.
  • Refuse to eat foods with strong, new, or specific smells.
  • Avoid using public restrooms or eating in public spaces.

Those with Olfactory Discrimination Disorder May:

  • Be unable to recognize familiar or very common smells.
  • Accidentally eat spoiled food or nonedible, potentially harmful substances.
  • Be unable to detect hazardous chemical or burning odors. However, they might be vaguely aware that something is wrong.

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