Autistic people often have lower sensitivity OR higher sensitivity to taste. 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 taste is the Gustatory System.
Our tongues are covered in little bumps which contain our taste buds. The taste buds then send messages to the brain about the type of flavour we have in our mouths.
People who are less sensitive to taste, generally seek and enjoy strong flavours. They might really like salt & vinegar crisps, spicy foods, citrus fruits or fizzy sour sweets. People with lower sensitivity usually don’t mind eating a range of flavours so are more likely to have a varied diet than someone with higher sensitivity, but they might find plain food to be a bit boring and not enjoy eating it as much.
People who have a higher sensitivity to taste are often unfairly known by other people as ‘fussy eaters’ and may stick to plain foods which they are familiar with. It is helpful to understand that this isn’t a choice or stubborn behaviour, but that some people’s brains get overloaded trying to understand messages sent from their taste buds. When someone has a higher sensitivity to taste, they may keep different foods separate and only put one flavour in their mouth at a time to help reduce and simplify the messages from the taste buds.
It is usually the case that the less flavour our food has, the less colour it has. Therefore, people who eat a lot of plain, colourless food are often referred to as having a ‘beige diet’. Plain beige foods commonly enjoyed by autistic people include bread, plain pasta and chicken nuggets.
With higher sensitivity to taste, it isn’t just food that can have overwhelming flavours. Think about other things that your taste buds will need to communicate to the brain about – drinks, toothpaste and sometimes medicines.
- Did you know that it is possible to buy flavourless toothpaste? There are also some toothpastes with milder flavours like strawberry, for people who find the taste of mint to be too strong.
- If you are unwell and a doctor needs to prescribe you some yucky flavoured medicine, you might need to have some water or something you like the flavour of to have alongside the medicine.
- If you are able to manage swallowing tablets, you can always ask your doctor if there is a tablet you could take instead of the flavoured liquid medicine.
As well as flavour our mouths also have the job of communicating with our brains about the texture and temperature of foods.