Gustatory: Under Responsive
1. Student prefers very strong flavours
A student who is underresponsive to taste may seek out strong flavours to enhance registration of tastes. This can be easily resolved by including strong flavours in the diet to ensure a broad range of flavours.
- If trying to introduce more meat or vegetables, prepare curries and strongly spiced food.
- Allow student to add strong flavours to meals e.g. chilli flakes, black pepper, sauces. If you think that the student is adding too much sauces etc to food and are concerned it may be harmful, place a limited amount in a small tub and only allow the student access to this.
- Ensure student can choose strongly flavoured food e.g. citrus fruits, strong cheese, fruit slices added to water.
Point to remember
- Allow student to add spices or other strong flavours to food
2. Student eats non-food items
Some students with autism will eat or try to eat non-food items. This behaviour is called pica and can be very dangerous if the student eats toxic items or mouths objects which cause a choking hazard. The student may be eating non-food items because he/she likes the crunchy texture (e.g. stones) or because he/she likes the soft texture (e.g. play dough). Alternatively he/she may be seeking strong flavours e.g. paint, glue.
Pica is a complex behaviour which may also be caused by medical, emotional and psychological factors. This resource focuses on sensory processing and therefore the suggested strategies are recommended for a student who is eating non-food items because he/she is seeking strong tastes and textures. If your concerns are related to any other factors, please seek advice from a relevant professional e.g. GP, psychologist. Pica is a serious concern which can cause significant danger to the student and so advice should be sought immediately.
- Teach the student to discriminate between edible and non-edible items e.g. place edible items in a green box and non-edible items in a red box. Each time the student tries to eat a non-edible item, direct the student to place it in the red box. A ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ sign can be placed on the red box.
- Offer replacement objects. Try to select items which are similar to the taste/texture which the student seems to be seeking. Examples include:
- Teething objects
- Sensory chewable items (commercially available) e.g. necklaces, pendants, bangles
- Chewing gum
- Dry and crunchy cereal
- Dry bagel
- Chewy sweets
- Dried fruit
- Raw vegetables
- Mint mouth spray
If using food as a replacement, ensure there is no choking risk and control how much the child is eating during the day to ensure there is no risk to health.
- Include oral motor activities in the student’s daily schedule. Some examples include:
- Blowing bubbles
- Blow football i.e. blowing cotton wool along a table to score goals
- Drinking through a straw of bottle with a sports cap
- Playing a wind instrument
- Blowing up a balloon
- Drinking a thick liquid through a straw e.g. milkshake, yoghurt, custard
Point to remember
- Redirect student to alternative chewy items e.g. chewy tube, pendant
3. Student is more alert after eating a strong flavour
Some students who are sensory underresponsive seem to become more alert and engaged after eating a strong flavour. This can therefore facilitate attention and learning.
- Allow the student to chew gum.
- Allow the student to eat a strongly flavoured sweet when attention seems to be deteriorating e.g. strong mint sweet, sour sweet.
- Allow the student mint mouth spray.
- Allow the student ice cold water, possibly flavoured with fruit slices.
- Allow the student strongly flavoured fruit (fresh or dried).
Point to remember
- Strong flavours (e.g . strong mints) may improve the student’s alertness and attention