I have mentioned on here before that Sara has superhuman taste buds. But you may not know that she also has the nose of a bloodhound. Which is not unexpected for a person with Sensory Processing Disorder.
She can smell things well before the rest of us even start to get a whiff of it. I remember being at a Steakhouse with her and she sat across from me and her nose started to twitch. Then she said “I smell smoke. Does anyone else smell smoke?” Blank stares from the rest of us.
The restaurant was full of yummy, garlicy smells but Sara was insistent that there was smoke. She sniffed and sniffed trying to tease out the direction. We all exchanged glances and then started smelling the air also. Nothing. Then she said “It’s not smoke-smoke…like from a fire…it’s more like fireworks”. More sniffing. None of us could help her as we could not smell anything.
About 3 minutes later one of us also caught a whiff of it just as a waiter walked past carrying some extinguished sparklers. She could smell the burning sparklers from someone’s birthday celebration! This type of thing happens all the time and I have come to implicitly trust Sara’s nose. Her nose KNOWS! But, sometimes…her NOSE knows too much and we can’t get away with anything!
For example – if we drop her off somewhere (say at her gymnastics class or at a friends house) we might sneak off for some Greek food or run some errands while she is busy. Then we swing around and pick her up an hour or so later and this is what unfolds: Car door opens. Sara gets in and shuts door. We say “Hi” and she says: “I smell French fries” or ” I smell pet store” or “I smell sand” (yes SAND!!!). Somehow she knows exactly where we have been. It is crazy! She can literally smell peanuts on you if you ate a Snickers bar in her absence.
But, sometimes her nose plays tricks on her and that makes for a fun car ride. Like the other day when we picked her up, she started to smell the air but could not place the scent. She went crazy trying to tease out the new smell that appeared while she was gone. She kept sniffing and saying “It’s something sweet.” “I see it as pink (sniff – sniff) or red?” “Like cotton candy (sniff – sniff) but it’s not cotton candy” We all threw suggestions at her – gum? candy? But she kept smelling the air saying “It might be a drink?” Then she started smelling her brother, insistent that it was coming from him.
“MARASCHINO CHERRIES!!!” she finally exclaimed!! “It’s maraschino cherries! That is why I kept picturing red and a drink!” We all laughed – none of us had maraschino cherries so I have no idea where that came from? But some how all of the new scents of our outing had melded into the smell of maraschino cherries to her. So evidently her nose likes to play tricks on her sometimes.
When she was a little girl I would put her to bed for a nap, and if I made cookie dough or lit a scented candle it would wake her from a sound sleep, and she would toddle down to the kitchen saying “My nose made me wake up. I followed the smell down here.”
I am describing this heightened sense of smell in a very fun, playful way, and it can be amusing or amazing at times, but mostly it is very problematic for Sara. If I cook certain foods, like salmon or roasted cauliflower, she loses her appetite. Once she walked into the house and before she even got her shoes off she yelled from the doorway “Gross! Are you cutting tomatoes???” and left again unable to tolerate the smell.
Last year she often missed shop class at school because the overwhelming smell of the sawdust made her nauseous. And yesterday, we brought home pumpkins for carving but Sara could not stomach being near them while they were beings scooped out. She tried a few times, because she hated missing out, but she just could not do it. She was frustrated and mad but she could not get past the smell. Even outside. Here she is using her shirt as a face mask trying to block out the odor.
As you can imagine, this heightened sense of smell also factors into her picky eating. Food has strong, strong odors to Sara and many can be offensive. This is a common problem amongst SPD and Autistic kids, and it definitely contributes to the struggle they have with eating and/or trying new foods. So, if you have a picky eater be mindful of the fact that there are MANY reasons that exacerbate their inability to tolerate foods. It is not always because they are being stubborn, defiant or difficult. Sometimes they just can’t get past the over whelming smell, texture or taste or food that you might consider to be rather bland.
Sometimes we all benefit from her nose – like the time she could not eat her pasta because it smelled weird. It was a simple penne with tomato sauce and Parmesan. She went from pot to pot smelling each individual ingredient. It drove her mad that no one else could smell that something was off. She kept going back to the parmesan but none of us would validate that we also detected anything wrong. At her persistence I smelled the cheese on last time before I was about to tuck into my meal – nothing. Nothing! But on a whim I took a spoon and turned over a big clump and a putrid stink hit my nose. The cheese was indeed rancid and she saved us from eating it! Super power to the rescue!
So be kind to kids who are sensitive sniffers – it is a real struggle and something they cannot just “get over”. In our house we respect Sara’s very real problem, and while we don’t change our lives – salmon and cauliflower are still on the menu – we do try to work with her to make sure her needs are also being met. It can be annoying that we cannot have certain plants in the house, or that we have to be careful about perfumes and deodorant choices – but on the plus side we get to live with a super hero! How many people can say that? 🙂