Sensory – Smell

Autistic people often have lower sensitivity OR higher sensitivity to smells.  It is common for the levels of sensitivity to change according to how relaxed, stressed or tired the person is feeling. 
The scientific name for our sense of smell is the Olfactory System.


 
Lower sensitivity

Some people may not notice smells as much as others. I can think of quite a few stinky situations where this could be super useful – like not smelling someone’s smelly trump!  However, there may be times when it isn’t helpful, like if you don’t realise your toast is burning until it is already black, or aren’t able to smell if the milk is sour before pouring it over your breakfast cereals. It can therefore be useful for people who care for you to know and be aware if your sense of smell doesn’t notice as much as other peoples’.

People with lower sensitivity to smells generally seek out strong scents, and will often pick things up to give them a sniff!


 
Higher sensitivity

Some people can notice smells that others can’t, or become aware of them long before anyone else in the room. This can be pretty cool if it’s a smell the person likes – especially when they are the first to notice that some tasty treats have been taken out of the oven!

However, the downside of being more sensitive to smells is that some environments, or even people can be difficult to be around at times. A room with scented candles, a person who has been sucking mints, or wearing aftershave, public toilets and restaurants might be totally overwhelming and unbearable for some. 

It is important for friends, family, teachers and anyone who cares for you to be aware if you struggle to cope with smells. If people understand how smells make you feel, they can support you to make things better.

TOP TIPS
  • Use unscented soaps/deodorants
  • Remove air fresheners
  • Ask family and friends to not wear perfume around you
  • Have a tissue to cover your nose when needed – or a handkerchief with a scent you like on it to mask any unpleasant smells
  • Sit away from people eating smelly foods
  • Use a toilet which is less stinky – maybe some of the toilets at school/work could be cleaned with unscented products, and have fragrance-free soaps? Or a disabled toilet could be more bearable if less people use it each day.
Writing led by Bobbie Gilham, Neurodivergent Parent of Autistic Teenager, Admin at Spectrum Gaming
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