Happy Learners - Managing Sensory Needs - Smell

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Smell (Olfaoception)

Strategies to support children with sensory needs involving the sense of smell


Children who are hyposensitive to smell have a much higher threshold before they sense smells. This can lead to some sensory seeking behaviour where they sniff objects and people. Younger children may seek out smells that are unpleasant to most people. Strategies that can support them include:

Using aromatherapy scents and oils

Burning scented candles

Provide scented (smelly, stinky) stickers as rewards

Manage any personal overuse of deoderants and perfumes etc

Use informative social stories to discourage inappropriate smell seeking behaviour


Children who are hypersensitive to smell have a much lower threshold before they sense smells. This can lead to difficulties concentrating when sensing smells they experience as unpleasant. This can be everyday ordinary smells. This can lead to avoidance behaviour as the child tries to keep away from unpleasant smells such as using public toilets. Strategies that can support them include:

Parents and staff may need to use neutral deoderants and avoid strong perfumes etc

Encourage child to carry a scented handkerchief which they can then use to mask unpleasant smells

They may need to have school lunch away from dining hall and kitchen

Use extractors fans when cooking and pre-prepare meals when able

Encourage the child to do a quiet relaxing activity before exposure to smells and before mealtimes

Air fresheners or scented candles may be used to mask other smells

Experiment with different washing detergent and fabric softeners

Consider needs of child when using apparatus that may create smells

Manage exposure to new smells by building up intensity and/or duration slowly

Seat the child in the class away from peers with strong smells such as tobacco smells and body odour. You may also need to manage children from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds whose smell may reflect differences in diet.

You may also be interested in the following pages:

Managing Sensory Needs - Hearing

Managing Sensory Needs - Sight

Managing Sensory Needs - Taste


Cheng, M., & Boggett-Carsjens, J. (2005). Consider Sensory Processing Disorders in the Explosive Child: Case Report and Review. The Canadian Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Review, 14(2), 44–48.

Laurie, C. (2013) Sensory Strategies London: The National Autistic Society