The Sense Of Taste: Gustation

Senses are the brain’s capability to process information from the surrounding environment, commonly referred to as “perceiving.” It’s important to know that each sense is a system of sensory cells that corresponds to a particular region of the brain where signals are received and then interpreted. In humans, there are a variety of senses. Today, we are focusing on the sense of taste, otherwise known as “Gustation,” and how it’s affected by Sensory Processing Disorder.

Taste is the most basic sense refers to the detection of the chemicals that make up food. Taste is sometimes confused with flavor (flavor is actually your taste and your sense of smell working in conjunction with each other to form a perception). Taste is received through sensory organs such as the tongue, the papillae, taste buds, and the receptor cells.

When a food enters the mouth, during the digestion process, saliva is released and starts to break down the food moving the food into the tiny pores and grooves on the tongue where the receptor cells are located. The cells then determine whether the food fits into one of five tastes: sweet, salt, sour, bitter and umami.

When your child suffers from sensory processing disorder they will have a hard time categorizing foods into their respective tastes. This might cause them to be extremely picky eaters. But there’s a difference between a picky eater and the potential to suffering from nutritional deficiencies due to limited food choices.  Also, there are some who have the opposite problem and crave oral sensory input.

Here are some indicators that your child might have taste sensitivity or enjoy oral sensory input:

  • considered a very picky eater – gag at certain foods, only eat certain brands, become anxious when trying new foods
  • will only eat food at room temperature
  • often finds food too hot or too cold or prefers food too hot or too cold
  • may enjoy extremely bland food or extremely spicy food
  • frequent drooling
  • licks, chews or bites inedible objects

According to Kay Toomey, Ph.D., psychologist and clinical director of SOS Feeding Solutions, current research shows from birth to 8 years, 20% of all kids struggle with food. But taste sensitivity occurs when your child lets eating disrupt their daily life.

There are however some strategies to help make meal time easier for everyone involved.

  • strict routines such as eating at the same time, location, and using the same utensils to help create comfort before meal time
  • parents and siblings should behave as role models
  • respond with praise when they have good behavior especially when they say “no thank you” to a bite
  • food should be served that is easy to manage – cut into cubes or small strips
  • have them help out during meal time such  as preparation, setting the table, and cleaning up
  • have kids play with the food to help get used to the textures
  • incorporate crunchy, chewy, or sticky snacks throughout the day for those who like to chew

An occupational therapist or a dietrician can help you present foods in news ways and make sure that your child is getting everything that they need.