The sense of taste is going to be the third part of my series on Sensory Processing Disorder. As we have seen in the previous two posts about visual and auditory processing problems, children with autism can have significant issues in everyday scenarios. This is due to the way that the brain deals with the information that it receives.
As the sense of taste relates to food, it is reasonable to conclude that a disturbance in processing taste can cause problems. Getting a balanced and healthy diet can be hard, and social situations difficult. Sensory processing issues related to taste can require creative solutions to overcome successfully.
Sense of Taste: A General Overview
The sense of taste is also known as gustation or gustatory perception. It is closely related to the sense of smell. The five main categories of taste have been identified as: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. As well as these main tastes, the way we perceive our food can also be affected by the texture of the food. It can also matter how hot or cold it is.
A person with sensory processing taste issues may struggle to distinguish flavours from one another. As with other SPD types, we see both sensory avoiding and sensory seeking behaviours regarding food.
Food: Sensory Avoiding Behaviours
For some with sensory taste processing issues, certain flavours may be overwhelming. This may cause them to gag or to even vomit when eating a food that they don’t like. They may be extremely picky eaters, preferring very bland foods or limited foods from a certain category. It can be difficult for a child with SPD to get a balanced diet containing all of the necessary nutrients from the main food groups. In very extreme scenarios, a child may only wish to eat one particular type of food.
Another problem that may occur with SPD is that a child may not like certain foods on a plate to touch or mix together. A parent or caregiver may need to divide elements of a meal into separate plates to avoid them touching or contaminating one another.
Temperature can also play a big part in whether a child may accept a certain food. They may only like it served at room temperature and dislike hot food. Likewise, a child may try and avoid foods with certain textures, such as lumps.
Food: Sensory Seeking Behaviours
The opposite is true of a child with sensory seeking behaviour. They might love strongly-flavoured foods or hot and spicy dishes. They may also drool and dribble excessively. Such a child may also crave foods that are inedible and potentially dangerous, such as stones, dirt or feces. This is known as pica.
Some children also seek out general oral stimulation by chewing objects or clothing because they like the sensation.
Help for Children with Gustatory Processing Issues
Food should be made as appealing and as easy to manage as possible. This will depend on the preference of the child. Parents could try cutting food into small chunks or presenting it in a novel or creative way.
Friends and family should try and set a good example for by showing how enjoyable a varied diet can be. They should offer plenty of praise for trying out new foods. This can really encourage a child with sensory processing taste issues.
It can be a good idea to let a child help out in the preparation of a meal, so that they can associate food with enjoyment. They may be more willing to try something that they have made themselves.
For a child seeking oral stimulation, there are a variety of sensory toys available, including chewable jewellery. This will enable them to satisfy their need to chew without being destructive.
An occupation therapist or dietician may also be able to help with further suggestions on how to enable a child to eat a varied and balanced diet.
In my next blogpost in the series, I’m looking at the sense of smell and it’s associated sensory seeking and avoidant behaviours.