Helping all children become happy learners

Managing Smell Sensory Needs


Children with sensory needs involving smell (olfacoception) may exhibit extreme reactions to everyday smells both pleasant and unpleasant. Managing the behaviour of young children can be challenging as they often yet to learn the social rules and societal values that influence the way we react to 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.

Providing scented (smelly, stinky) stickers as rewards.

Managing any personal overuse of deoderants and perfumes etc.

Using 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 in advance 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 to find a smell the child can tolerate.

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.

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