Smells Like Toddler Spirit

Note:  Last week I “met” and struck up a virtual conversation with the author of “love many trust few.” You can eavesdrop on our conversation in the comments section of this post on habits. To summarize, I had complimented her on cleverly calling her posts in April an “Autism Awareness Blogathon” and told her I might steal borrow some ideas from her posts as part of my own contributions to Autism Awareness Month. Once again showing how clever she is, this fellow autism mom suggested that we pick a mutual topic, write posts on the topic from our own perspectives and then link to each other’s blogs. The topic we chose is the senses.  Below is my take on the subject and how it relates to autism. Here’s a link to her blog post, “Sensational”.

I was walking during my lunch break the other day and caught a whiff of pipe smoke. A few paces later I could smell strong spices from a nearby restaurant. Soon, my nose was overwhelmed from the exhaust of a delivery truck idling behind a business.

I wonder if Philip would have noticed.

I know Philip can hear because he was screened after his two-year wellness check to rule out a physical impairment as the cause for his language delay. Some times he rushes over to listen to music and other times he covers his ears to block out the sound.
His vision seems healthy since he can spot the tiniest bit of debris on the floor and can detect when we have moved or changed something in the house. Again, sometimes he leans in close to observe and other times he covers his eyes to block it out.

An eye for detail

I know he responds to touch since I’ve watched him squeal with delight when a strong breeze rustles his hair and tickles his face, and I’ve also witnessed his look of disgust and vigorous flapping of hands when he has something gooey or sticky or his fingers that he wants of.

I know he tastes things because, once a new food passes both a visual inspection and the texture test in his fingers, he will still touch it to the tip of his tongue to see if he wants to consume it.

A taste for . . . bubbles?

For each of these four senses, I can observe and then evaluate Philip’s behavior to determine how he is responding. But when it comes to smell, I have a single anecdote. One day at the local superstore, I was pushing Philip in the cart when his breathing changed. I was alarmed. I thought maybe something was wrong. Then I realized that we were in the aisle with all of the air fresheners. Philip was just sniffing the air.

That’s it. That’s my one story about smelling.

Yesterday, I wrote on the subject of Sensory Processing Disorder, writing about how those affected can either be over-sensitive or under-sensitive. You can read about a child who is extremely sensitive to smell on Sensory Speak’s blog. I was glad that I read that particular post because the author mentions some therapeutic activities she will be using to help regulate her child’s sense of smell.

I’m tempted to say that Philip is under-sensitive to smell, but I can’t prove that. After reading the blog post mentioned above, my first thought was, “Maybe not smelling isn’t a bad thing.” The nerd in me immediately took over and Googled “Is it bad not to smell things?”

Apparently, it is. There are names for the various disorders related to taste and smell. You can go straight to the source here, but I’m going to quote the site below:

  • Anosmia – Inability to detect odors
  • Hyposmia – Decreased ability to detect odors
  • Dysosmia – Distorted identification of smell

    • Parosmia – Altered perception of smell in the presence of an odor, usually unpleasant
    • Phantosmia – Perception of smell without an odor present
    • Agnosia – Inability to classify or contrast odors, although able to detect odors


Again, I should mention that I’m not claiming that Philip has any of these disorders. Just because he doesn’t have any overt smelling behaviors does not mean that he has an olfactory issue. Rather, this illustrates the challenges of raising a non-verbal child. He can’t say, “Hey, Mommy. This stinks. Want to smell it?” Not yet.

So, for now, I have to hope that the aroma of bacon frying in the skillet makes his mouth water. I have to hope that the delicate scent of a flower is pleasing to him. I have to hope that stink of dog feces left on the sidewalk will dissuade him from touching it. I have to hope that the smell of smoke will warn him there may be fire.

I have to hope.

Pulling this post from the archives to link up with the yeah write #158 weekend moonshine grid.


20 thoughts on “Smells Like Toddler Spirit

  1. Cyn,
    Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving such a positive comment. It’s appreciated. I’m glad I decided to check your blog out as you seem like an incredible father with a great love for your son, Phiilip. It also helps that you have a great style of writing! 🙂 I’m now “following” your blog and look forward to learning more from you. May God continue to bless you and your entire family!


  2. Hey…we did it!! I saw that you had posted but did not read a word until just now. I quickly wrote mine a couple of hours ago while my two little boys were having an afternoon nap at the same time (rare!) and before my 5yo got home from school. How funny that we both wrote about smell. Beautiful photos!


  3. I love your descriptions of observing Phillip’s senses, and all the different terms for scent disorders. Funny, scientific, and loving is a great combination!


    1. I’m glad I looked up the smelling disorders. I never stopped to think about how they could affect a person’s life. Still don’t know if Philip has any issues, but at least I’ll know what to look for.


  4. Smells are so powerful. I have often thought that even those who don’t say much about their thoughts/feelings must have something going on about smells. They still might not share them, but I am sure they are there.


  5. I have a son with SPD. He isn’t bothered by smells – neither am I, after years of using “the Vicks trick” working in hospice and extended care facilities – but he is incredibly sensitive to touch and his personal bubble. All of that is to say, it’s not easy to hang on to hope … but we do. We have to.


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