Kids with sensory processing issues can be oversensitive to taste and smells, from cooking spices to minty toothpastes to scented shampoos. An occupational therapist can help your child develop coping skills. There are also activities you can do to help at home.
1. Keep a log of your child’s food reactions.
Your child’s reactions to foods can change from day to day. Taste sensitivity as well as his ability to cope with unpleasant sensations can be affected by such factors as having a rough day at school or not getting enough sleep. Keeping a log can help you look for patterns. It can also help you predict trouble spots.
2. Understand the connection between taste and smell.
Taste and smell are closely connected. Your taste buds can identify basics such as salty, sweet, sour and bitter. But your sense of smell provides the rest of the input to notice flavor. That’s why smell can make a difference to kids with taste sensitivities.
3. Encourage “snake tastes.”
It’s important to take it slowly when introducing new tastes. Occupational therapists sometimes start by having children simply be near the food and look at it. Then the goal is to get comfortable handling the food, perhaps using it in an art project. The next big step is to do a “snake taste”—essentially a quick lick. Help your child work up from snake tastes to letting the food sit on his tongue for 10 seconds. Then you can encourage him to swallow a small bite. This may take weeks or even months, so don’t rush it.
4. Set and stick to limits.
Set limits you can all agree on. If you want your child to take a “snake taste” and he does, don’t push him to swallow a bite even if he likes it. If you want him to take one bite, don’t ask him to eat more. Showing that you know this is hard for your child will help build his trust.
5. Present foods in new ways.
Taste and texture issues go together, so using a different form of a food may help. For example, your child may not like the wet feel of fruit. But he might not mind the taste if the texture is different. Instead of fresh banana slices, give crunchy banana chips a try. Instead of a whole apple, offer dehydrated apple rings. Plan on some trial and error, though. Those textures and tastes may not work consistently either!
6. Introduce new foods over time.
Asking your child to try too many new foods at once can be overwhelming. And keep in mind that it can take 10 to 15 tries before kids decide if they like a new food. Pay attention to how your child is responding. If he doesn’t like a food, try other forms of that food before giving up and moving on to a new food. For instance, try a banana smoothie instead of a whole banana.
7. Set up “no scent” zones.
Have you ever smelled something so strongly you can taste it? Kids with taste sensitivities can have a lower tolerance for it. Try keeping areas you eat in free of air fresheners, perfume and other strong smells.