top of page

Why you should not overlook the importance of taste and smell...

Taste and smell are important senses and they often get overlooked.

Did you know that smell and taste are present at birth? Infants are born with the sucking reflex which occurs from the adaptive response when tastes/smells are being presented.

Remember this visual?

Sensory Integration Cycle

In the example of an infant... the child detects the smell/taste of milk, interprets it to be safe, and creates the adaptive response to suck in order to receive the fluids.

Neat, huh?

Let' talk about taste, or gustatory information first.

When food enters into the mouth, it touches the surface where the taste buds are. There is a chemical reaction when the food touches the surface where the taste receptors are. There are five different types of tastes including: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and savory. Tastes are critical for enjoyment of foods to expand repertoire.

Next up, smell, or olfactory.

Smell begins in the nose, and provides information about the chemical make up of particles (odors) that are suspended in air. Smell is tightly linked with emotion because it is processed in the limbic system. Ever smell a certain candle or food item and immediately think of a memory? Smell influences our choices in the items and people we encounter.

If a child's smell or taste sense is overreactive, they might be quite defensive when it comes to certain food preferences, or environments. If it's under reactive, a child might need more spices or intense smells to register.

Red Flags for the Olfactory System:

  • When a child has strong reactions to smells, even ones others don't notice

  • Does not notice strong or unpleasant odors

  • Adverse reactions to soaps, perfumes, or colognes

  • Smelling items frequently

Red Flags for the Olfactory System:

  • Picky eating with limited food repertoire, or only eating foods from specific categories or brands

  • Limited to eating foods of certain tastes, or temperatures

  • Requesting heavily seasoned foods

  • Specific about foods presentation

  • Anxious with new foods including gagging or vomiting

  • Avoids dental care- won't brush, won't go to the dentist

  • Mouths or chews non-edible objects

How does an occupational therapist help with the sense of smell and/or taste?

An occupational therapist is equipped to manage experiences for those who have challenges with their sense of smell or taste. A therapist will teach self-regulation strategies to allow a child to be in a relaxed state before beginning exploration of these uncomfortable senses. Fun and playful games might be included in this exploration. For example having a blind scent test to categorize, or making fun oral game out of color changing foods. The possibilities are endless!

If you are concerned about your child's ability to process scents or tastes, please feel free to reach out!

Samantha Stern, MS, OTR/L

CEO, Pediatric occupational therapist


Phone: (407) 907 - 7936

Recent Posts

See All

What to do after your child meltdowns

Ever had your child meltdown in public and not know what to do? I’ve seen too many to count, especially living in Orlando and visiting Disney. The pediatric occupational therapist in me wants to alway


bottom of page