My son Josh is not a picky eater. He’s always been good about trying new foods. If Josh resists eating something the problem he has is not usually with the taste or texture of something, but the smell.
As a young adult Josh now manages most of his sensory problems with ease. He has discovered that he enjoys cooking and decided he needed to expand the number of recipes he knows how to make. I’ve taught him the basics of meal preparation, and I compiled a list of easy-to-prepare recipes that I thought Josh would enjoy making and eating. One such recipe was “Easy Lemon Chicken”. Josh would gladly consume the final, baked version of this dish. Unfortunately, and I didn’t know this about Josh, he can’t stand the smell of lemon juice.
He’s fine with lemonade, lemon-scented soaps, cleaning wipes, and lemon jello. In fact, I can’t think of anything lemony that Josh reacted negatively to as a child. This experience revealed that there is something different and acrid for him about lemon juice and it was so hard for him to smell that concentrated lemon scent that he had difficulty just measuring it out to make the recipe.
Adding to the challenge was Josh’s tendency to be impulsive, which of course is consistent with his ADHD diagnosis. With all the ingredients, even very common and frequently used ones, Josh automatically gives them a sniff before adding them to a recipe. He tells me he needs to check to make sure the smell is consistent over time and that things should smell exactly the same way each time or something seems wrong and he feels suspicious about that ingredient. In any case, sniffing food items is a well-developed habit by now, though thankfully not in public anymore.
Josh gave the lemon juice a whiff, and had an immediate nose-wrinkling response followed by thrusting his arm as far from his nose as he could extend it. Blinking incredulously, Josh proceeded to…take another whiff from the bottle of lemon juice. Why? Partly due to impulsivity and partly due to his sensory system demanding consistency over time. He had to check again just to make sure it smelled as noxious to him as it had the first time. Yep! It still smelled awful to him, but at least he knew what to expect the second time.
Predictability is comforting to the sensory-challenged. It helps to know what to expect, even if it is still an unpleasant sensation. Better the bad sensory experience you know than the unexpected sensory experience which could prove very unsettling merely by the unpredictability factor. Josh powered through the olfactory assault as he prepared the recipe, although it wasn’t as “easy” for him as the recipe name implied.