I am a parent of a daughter who has struggled all her life to fit in to the main stream of society. When she was in grade school, autism wasn't talked about very much. Instead, anyone like my daughter was classified as having a disability and there was even a time when her teachers and fellow students thought she did not speak English. This left my daughter at the sidelines in school isolated and alone. In middle school her shyness continued, she was bullied, and many teased her for being on drugs, so she continued to be sidelined and isolated.
Being a person "on the spectrum" presents huge challenges for the child and for their parents who have the task to raise their loved one from toddler stage into their adulthood and beyond. For parents, the ultimate goal is to help guide them on how to navigate the complicated world we live in, and to help give them the resources to learn to communicate as optimally as possible. The complexities of challenges are endless and are exacerbated for families with limited incomes and the availability of resources such as the professionals who have the expertise to help: Occupational and speech therapists and psychiatrists and group homes. The goal for me was to develop a tool that can be used by both professionals and parents in .
There is a new term called "scent craft" that I read about recently in the March issue of WGSN Intelligence Report regarding an educator in the UK using scent to help educate her young students. The description of her kits are similar to my multi sensory kit, and so my first reaction was WOW! Someone else in this world has the same line of thinking as I did when I developed MindScent®...an extension of the Essential Awakenings® Smell and Memory Kits! The article solidified my belief that there is a future for MindScent® and the methods for use that I developed with the guidance of an SLP and an educational director at an autism center down in Brooklyn, NY in 2018.
The stars became aligned when in early April, a young freelance writer named Astrid Bonner wrote to me to ask if she could contribute to my blog, and I accepted. Even though the portion included below speaks more about aromatherapy (as the general population knows it), it also includes the term aroma therapy. What's the difference? Please read on, and you'll find out.
Effects of Aromatherapy for Children With Autism:
Children with autism often have sensory abnormalities. A study found that 40% of these children have altered smell perception. The same study confirmed that children with autism present impaired odor identification despite having normal odor detection. However, more research still needs to be done on when altered olfaction (scent processing) occurs. It’s possible that the difficulty with odor identification may be caused by impaired neural mechanisms or by language problems in the common odor task. This led to a slew of specialists, including occupational therapists (OTs) and speech-language pathologists (SLPs), to integrate olfactory sniffing and aromatherapy into their treatment plans.
Aromatherapy using essential oil blends has been proven effective in helping children with autism manage symptoms like hyperactivity, sensory overload stress, and anger. Dr. Jill Hollway, Research Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University attributes this benefit to the oils' inherent soothing properties. However, she suspects that aromatherapy using certain blends of essential oils can be more effective in helping kids transition to bedtime, a common challenge for children on the autism spectrum.
When used in conjunction with visuals, aromatherapy helps ease stress and anxiety in children with autism spectrum disorder, as seen in the UPMC Children's Harrisburg sensory station. They use a projector to show calming scenes while having an aromatherapy diffuser expel relaxing scents.
In a column published in the Herald-Chronicle, Nikki Shrum talks about her experience with aromatherapy for her child with autism. She cites how some of the benefits of aromatherapy include increased recovery, relaxation, anxiety relief, and hormone and mood regulation. Her testimonies further prove how essential oils and aroma therapy could really work to manage autism symptoms. Furthermore, aromatherapy also helps exercise children's verbal skills. There is considerable evidence on how it can help develop social interaction skills among children with autism and other disabilities. One way scents can add therapeutic value is when they're presented as some sort of guessing game for children with autism, and is one of the methods used during the development stage of MindScent@ while Ruth traveled to the autism center in Brooklyn. In this particular exercise, Ruth asked the children to identify and describe the scents, helping them sharpen their language skills. Another game played was matching the scents to the visual aid cards in a multiple choice game, and then reading facts on the fact cards about the scent.
The Future of Aroma Therapy Treatment for Autism
We’re still in the early stages of developing aroma therapy as a solid treatment option for autism. As such, there’s a need for children with autism to work with a holistic care team consisting of a psychiatrist, OT, and SLP, alongside their family. Unfortunately however, America’s psychiatrist shortage could pose a challenge and hinder access to this service. In the state of New York, there are only 612 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people— other states don’t even have half that number. However, physician assistants or advanced-practice nurses can help ease the strain from this shortage. On the other hand, according to recent record numbers, there are approximately 111,640 speech pathologists, and over 97,840 occupational therapists in the United States who could benefit from the use of sensory kits such as MindScent® in their work.
While the pandemic devastated much of the healthcare system and exacerbated shortages, it also popularized online healthcare education to address these problems. The rise of remote learning has presented practicing nurses with the opportunity to earn a specialty in psychiatry through online RN to BSN programs. These programs equip nurses with the skills to evaluate and monitor progress, not to mention aid in administering psychiatric therapies. Courses are taught completely online, allowing working professionals to continue their practice while honing their skills. And since these degrees follow accredited curriculums, they’re just as valid as face-to-face ones. Advanced-practice nurses with a specialty in psychiatry could help administer and develop aroma therapy treatments in children with autism.
Moreover, even family members and educators are also just as likely to aid in the development of aroma therapy strategies. Through the MindScent® Smell.Discover.Connect, aroma therapy can be done in places where the child feels comfortable, like in the home. But what makes MindScent® unique versus the use of essential oils? The kits include 20 distinctive scent prompts such as grass, chocolate, and apples (to name a few) that resonate with the general population and with children. Each scent is accompanied by matching visual clue and fact cards often including nutritional and fun trivia facts. The kits also come with paper smelling strips to use for scent application that helps encourage the act of sensory development, verbal and visual communication in children with autism and learning disabilities.
MindScent® is patent pending and novel technique that utilizes every day distinctive scents in an activity that is educational and fun, and can be an activity that the entire family can take part in. Ruth Sutcliffe, the owner of The Scent Guru Group, LLC is always available to answer questions from any of her customers, and hopes that her sensory tool kits will make their way into the education system in America so that children of all ages and capabilities can enjoy and learn through one of our most important functions: The sense of smell.
Written by Astrid Clea Bonner Exclusive for thescentgurugroup.com