I’m no expert on dogs, but like young children genetically hardwired to dawdle and explore on a walk, for my puppy a walk is an olfactory adventure, with so many strange and wonderful smells to try. Early one Sunday morning with the sun cutting through the cool breeze and birds noisily singing above, my walk with a 7 month old puppy was punctuated by frequent stops for sniffing and exploration.  Whilst stood waiting on one such stop, I found my mind wandering to how little we use our sense of smell in our daily lives, even though in infancy this is one of our primary senses.

Fresh from finishing a book on sensory play and special educational needs, I discovered some amazing examples of the power of adult’s sense of smell. Take the individuals who not only see colours, but can smell them too. Some autistic people actually store ‘smell images’ in their memory. Other children (and adults) are over sensitive to smells, known as hypersmell. In fact some autistic individuals have a comparable sense of smell to dogs (Morris, 1999 in Bogadashina, 2003), with ‘almost all types of food smell too sharp and they can’t tolerate the smell of certain people, even if very clean.’

Some responses to smell manifest purely as an awareness, while others cause discomfort and even pain. Take the example of Vicky, who is hypersensitive to sounds, touch and smell. If touched by somebody she instantly smells the place of touch, takes off the items of clothing and refuses to wear it until washed (Bogadashina, 2003). For children and adults with typically developed senses it’s difficult to understand just how powerful the sense of small can be and to appreciate the attraction (and conversely repulsion) caused by the world around us. My puppy and Vicky’s story have certainly given me lots of food for thought.

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