Many of our learners who have multiple disabilities we are often somewhat limited in what sensory pathways we can use to teach new skills or build cognition. Our students may be deaf, blind, have reduced tactile sensation, be unable to eat or even taste foods by mouth or be unable to participate in most vestibular and proprioceptive activities because of medical conditions like orthostatic hypotension or brittle bones. These means that the sense of smell may be the most powerful means of accessing our students skills.
Most of us are sure to include the sense of smell in our cooking lessons, passing around the vanilla extract or onion for every one to sniff. Yet how can we include the sense of smell in other areas of the curriculum.
1. Consistently call attention to the scent of items in natural settings, if possible pairing the scent with another sense such as touch or hearing. Have your student notice the smell of the crayon while feeling its shape and making the movements for coloring hand over hand. Notice the odor of the playground ball as you roll it and bounce it. Observe the smell or the toothpaste and hand soap while doing activities of daily living.
2. If at all possible consider embedding scent into a visual schedule/calendar box system. A few drops of an essential oil like evergreen or gardenia can be added to the “outside” symbol, a minty toothpasty kind of smell added to the ADLs symbol or a lemony smell for vocational tasks that involve using citrus scented cleaners. (You can add scents to symbols by placing a free drops of oil on a cotton ball in a small container or plastic zip bag attached to the back or the symbol.)
3. Ask people to try to stick to the same perfume, aftershave, scented lotion or or even deodorant so students can associate a person with a scent.
4. Attempt to embed scents into theme units. Learning about India? Introduce each lesson with the smell of curry. Learning about gardening? Introduce each lesson with the smell damp soil (put some in a baby food jar). Think about this when you plan out your unit.
5. Using a systematic program (such as Every Move Counts) do a preference assessment on your student’s favorite scents. You can then use this scent to reinforce learning activities. For example teaching switch use using a scent diffuser and an environmental controller.
6. Add an aroma diffuser to your sensory area. You can adapt battery run ones with a battery interrupter for switch use or get a plug in version and use with an environmental control unit. Some more expensive versions have a remote control, which means you can program communication devices or IR environmental control units to run the diffuser.
7. When doing sensory stimulation, sensory soothing and educational activities consider using scent:
- here are two links to recipes for making scented playdough
- try out scented chewy tubes
- make and use scented rice based heat packs
- play guess that scent with foods or other items
- match items with a particular scent (bananas, mint) to the photo or symbol
- add perfume strips from magazines to collages and art projects
- search for “scented DIY”, “scented crafts” or similar to get more idea
Please note: student and staff sensitivities and allergies must be taken into account when planning to add olfactory experiences to your program. Some people believe that scented toys maybe risky for children, please be aware of the risks and understand your school/agency policy.