Sensory Processing Disorder: Olfactory Dysfunction

Our sense of smell is so deeply ingrained in our psychology that many times we don’t even realize how scents are affecting what we do and how we think. According to How Stuff Works (, “… smell, more so than any other sense, is also intimately linked to the parts of the brain that process emotion and associative learning.”  Meaning that our sense of smell influences our feelings and perceptions neurologically.  Our brains are hardwired to perceive certain smells and have an emotional reaction to those smells.

According to The Sense of Smell Institute, (, “… throughout every day and night of our lives we smell a wide variety of odors without being aware of them at all.   We go about our activities, breathing in and out, as an infinite number of chemical molecules interact subliminally with our odor receptors. Only when an odor irritates or pleases us or acts as a sudden reminder of the past do we pause to take notice.”  Sense of smell is tied deeply into who we are and what we like or don’t like.

Now imagine for a moment, having no sense of smell or problems perceiving smells correctly. Your world would be different but you couldn’t really know exactly why.

Hypersensitivity to Smells

Individuals with hypersensitivity to smells may complain that things smell bad when nobody else notices the offending scent.  They might even go so far as to describe how bad somebody smells. Public bathrooms may be difficult to use because the smell is too offensive and they may dislike scents such as perfumes, colognes or the scent of somebody’s house.    Being hypersensitive to smells can be vey limiting.  It can force the person with the hypersensitivity to make choices only because the scent they are perceiving is too offensive or strong.

Hyposensitivity to SmellsSense of Smell

A person with hyposensitivity to smells may have trouble discriminating between different smells.  They might not be able to tell when a food is rotten or if the thing they are smelling is a poisonous chemical.  While the person with hyposensitivity is not going to notice the bad smells, they aren’t going to notice the good smells either.  This can be limiting and possibly dangerous (if you can’t smell rotten food or chemicals, you could be poisoned).

What Can I Do?

If you are concerned about sensory processing disorder please find an occupational therapist to help with the evaluation process.  You can check the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation’s site to find somebody in your area:

Here is a list of activities to help with Olfactory Dysfunction:

  • Play name that scent:  take cotton balls and soak them in various scented oils including vanilla, lemon,  lavender or common scents. Put the cotton balls in clean prescription medication bottles.  Guess which scent is which.
  •  Notice and point out all scents around you.  Mention them, discuss them, and talk about them.
  • Guess the smell: Get scratch and sniff stickers, have the child cover their eyes and guess which scent is which.  Describe the differences between the scents, decide which is the favorite.
  • In the spring, go smell the flowers.  Talk about which ones have a scent and which don’t.  You could even take pictures of them or write down notes about them.

What are your favorite ways to help children learn more about their sense of smell?