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December 08, 2023 3 min read

When a complete stranger reaches out to say they are amazed at what I am doing for the autism and dementia community and offers to write about the therapeutical benefits of scent for people living with these conditions, I am more than grateful that my mission is becoming more visible. This is an article generously written by Astrid C. Bonner:

Sensory Overload: How to Make Aroma Therapy More Manageable for People With Autism

Incorporating aroma therapy into the lives of people with autism requires a thoughtful approach that considers individual sensitivities and preferences. Some studies suggest that the chemical composition of essential oils used for aroma therapy can provide psychological, emotional, and physical therapeutic benefits for individuals with autism.

Navigating the world of scents can still be overwhelming for those on the spectrum, but with a tailored strategy, aroma therapy can become a valuable tool for promoting relaxation and well-being. This article explores practical tips and personalized techniques to make aroma therapy more manageable and enjoyable for individuals with autism, and help with integrating soothing scents into their daily routines.

The benefits of aroma therapy vs. sensory overload

Aroma therapy has a number of associated benefits for people with autism, including increased recovery, relaxation, anxiety relief, and hormone and mood regulation. When mishandled, however, it can also be a trigger for sensory or olfactory overload. Sensory overload occurs when one or more of the body’s senses are overstimulated to a point where the individual is unable to cope, leading to irritability, anxiety, or emotional outbursts. Children with autism, in particular, often face sensory roadblocks that can make using options like aroma therapy challenging. A study found that 40% of these children have altered smell perception.

This doesn't mean that using aroma therapy is impossible, however. Below are three ways to make it more manageable so that you and your loved ones can make the most out of it.

3 ways to make aroma therapy more manageable


Focus on individualized scents and intensities

Recognizing the diverse sensory preferences of individuals with autism is crucial. Offer a variety of essential oils or scents and allow them to choose what resonates with them. Additionally, consider diluting oils or using subtle diffusing methods to control the intensity, which can prevent sensory overload. Tailoring the experience according to an individual’s comfort level ensures a more inclusive and effective approach to aroma therapy.

Create an inclusive wellness environment

Establishing a dedicated and sensory-friendly environment for aroma therapy sessions is vital. A diverse and inclusive wellness environment that considers factors such as lighting, noise levels, and overall ambiance allows individuals with autism to feel safe and encouraged to engage with aroma therapy without additional stressors. If you aren't having these sessions in a professional space, working with a healthcare professional as well as an aroma therapist who specializes in autism can also provide guidance and support in creating a sensory-friendly environment at home. Having an inclusive setting promotes a pleasant and warm experience that can lead to using aroma therapy as part of a wellness and self-care routine.

Aim for gradual exposure and familiarization

Introducing aroma therapy in a gradual manner can help individuals with sensory sensitivities acclimate to new scents. Begin with mild fragrances and short exposure times, and then slowly increase both as the person becomes more accustomed. Additionally, when introducing aroma therapy into a routine, having items that provide a sense of calm and security, like a weighted blanket or favorite pillow, can make an individual feel safer. This step-by-step approach allows for a more comfortable and less overwhelming integration of aroma therapy into their routine, fostering a positive association with scents.

In order to reap the therapeutic potential of aromas for individuals with autism, embracing flexibility, understanding, and personalization is essential. By tailoring scents to individual preferences, introducing aromas gradually, and creating a safe haven for sensory exploration, we pave the way for a more inclusive and manageable aroma therapy experience. All in all, these strategies empower individuals with autism to harness the benefits of aroma therapy, allowing it to align perfectly with their unique sensory needs.


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