I have a 7-year-old daughter with global developmental delay. She has lots of sensory concerns, but the most recent and difficult to help her with is her gag reflex in response to smells and even sometimes just the sight of food. We went to a fair the other day and had to leave because she gagged over and over from all the smells there (she never actually throws up). It has become more and more of a problem for her in the past 2 months or so and we need help. Even eating out at restaurants has become too much. Wed love any help might have to offer.
Response to smell is indeed a difficult issue to address. Here are my suggestions:
1. With complex issues, it is always best to get the advice of a local OT who can do an in-depth evaluation and provide personalized recommendations. If you need help finding one in your area with a strong background in sensory integration, let me know.
2. Fill out the Sensory Symptoms Checklist found on our website under the “Forms” tab. See if she is over- or under-responsive in other areas and make sure those needs are being addressed. For example, if she is over-responsive across the board of sensory systems, sometimes using whole-body calming techniques, like the brushing protocol or wearing a weighted vest can also help decrease hypersensitivity to smells. If you have any questions after filling out the checklist, let me know and I’ll be happy to help you.
3. Allow her to chew gum or suck on a mint when going places where you know smell will be an issue.
4. Find an essential oil that she likes. Lavender, pine and vanilla are frequent favorites. Put a few drops on a “friendship” bracelet (just a few strands of embroidery string braided together will do). She can bring it to her nose to smell it whenever necessary.
5. Teach her to breathe in and out through her mouth, rather than her nose, when overwhelmed by smells.
6. Deep pressure is calming to the entire nervous system. Provide deep pressure in difficult (or smelly!) situations by pushing down through her shoulders, giving her tight hugs, firm massages, or wearing a weighted vest or compression clothing (such as Under Armour).
7. Try allowing her to keep a tube of Chapstick with her and let her dab a little on the end of her nose.
8. Consult with her doctor to make sure there isn’t a medical issue causing this heightened sensitivity, especially if it continues to interfere with social settings.
Keep me posted on what works and doesn’t work!