Autism: Smell and taste sensitivities affect many
Updated: Jun 13
People with autism can be highly sensitive to smells and tastes. I have been sensitive to some smells and tastes for much of my life. According to Spectrum, a study clinicians used while diagnosing 228 children with autism indicated that 40 per cent of the assessed children had acute sensitivity to smell and taste.
According to WebMD, a 2015 study found that autistic children usually respond to smells much differently than children without autism. Some researchers can sense who is on the spectrum and who isn't only because of their sniff responses.
"The authors have hit upon a novel way of testing differences between children with autism and those without that indeed seems to suggest marked differences in how autistic children process odors," said Dr. Glen Elliott, chief psychiatrist and medical director of Children's Health Council in Palo Alto, Calif. "Since we know that many children with autism are hypersensitive to touch, sound, taste and visual stimuli, it is especially interesting that they seem not to be responsive to odor in the same fashion."
Spectrum also says that researchers have judged that autistic children with strong smell and taste sensitivities have extremely active nervous symptoms, which increases intensity perception.
According to Car Autism Roadmap, because many people on the spectrum have unusual sensory sensitivities, some may spot disgusting smells in a distance that most people may not notice. Others, however, may barely smell anything that most people would instantly smell.
What are some smell and taste sensitivities that I have?
Food with plastic
When I ate lunch at school as a kid, many other children would eat sandwiches from plastic bags or containers. I was not one of those kids.
The smell of sandwiches and most other foods would make me gag when they would be inside a plastic bag or container for hours.If you combine the plastic with ice packs in my lunch bag, it would only worsen. I guess my senses are super rigid when it comes to wanting fresh food.
What did I do? I would typically eat foods that don't need plastic bags or containers, such as apples, yogurt and fruit snacks at lunch. With foods where the smell doesn't go bad as easily, such as grapes, I would still sometimes eat in plastic bags, however.
Cold foods that should be heated
I am not the biggest fan of leftovers. Handling food in the fridge that was once warm easily makes me choke. Again, my senses sternly want to link food to heat and freshness.
The strange part is, with not already cooked frozen and raw foods, I don't have this problem. I can cook foods fine without reacting to the smells. It is only when I reheat leftovers.
Whenever there are leftovers at home, I ask my parents to put them on a plate for me so I would only have to touch the plate when I take the food to the microwave. Other times, my parents may offer to help me by bringing the leftovers out and ask me what I want. For example, "There is pasta, chicken, rice and veggies. Come pick what you want, and we'll do this together."
Masks aren't only useful with COVID-19.
Earlier this year, I decided to experiment to see if handling refrigerated foods with plastic would be easier for me if I wore my mask.
One day, I was home alone with leftovers in my refrigerator. I was nervous about taking the food out of the fridge, but then the mask idea popped in my head. When I took the food out to warm it up with my mask on, I could only smell the inside of my mask, which by the way, smelled much better than the refrigerated food. I, for once, could do this basic cooking test without gagging at the smell.
Believe it or not, I don't remember what I ate then, but I was proud of myself. For this reason, when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, I won't throw my masks out.
Overall, while many people with autism, including myself, have intense sensitivities to certain smells and tastes, we can manage them. If we know what triggers us and what may help, things will be much easier.