Sensory-Friendly Scent Environments for Neurodiverse Individuals
The sense of smell is one of our most powerful senses, with the ability to evoke vivid memories, emotions, and create a strong sense of comfort and well-being. For many people, including neurodiverse individuals, certain scents hold special significance, while others may be intolerable or overwhelming. Learn how to create sensory-friendly scent environments for yourself or other neurodiverse people.
By acknowledging these unique scent preferences, we can create environments that not only respect sensory sensitivities but also harness the power of scent to uplift and enhance our daily lives.
How can you create an environment where you indulge your sense of smell without becoming overwhelmed by strong aromas? Pay close attention to what scents you find pleasant versus which scents are overwhelming. For example, you may be fine with products scented with essential oils, but not with perfumes. Or, you may avoid florals altogether, but delight in cinnamon sticks. Create a balance in your home that is not overwhelming.
Delve into the emotional connection we have with our favorite scents, explore creative ways to bring these comforting and uplifting fragrances into our homes, and discuss how to tailor our scent experiences to meet personal needs and preferences. We’ll also share some DIY scent projects that can make your home smell like a sanctuary, and take a look at how sharing activities surrounding scent can be a great social activity for neurodiverse populations.
The Emotional Connection to Scents
Our sense of smell has a unique connection to our emotions and memories. Scents can transport us back in time to cherished moments or remind us of places and people dear to our hearts. This is because the olfactory system is closely linked to the limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for emotions, memories, and learning. As a result, when we encounter a familiar scent, it can trigger a powerful emotional response, even if it has been many years since the last time you smelled it.
While some scents can elicit positive emotions and memories, others may have a negative effect on our mood. For neurodiverse people, certain smells can be especially challenging or overstimulating, leading to feelings of discomfort, agitation, and even physical symptoms like headache and sore throat.
By identifying the scents that make us feel good and avoiding those that cause distress, we can create an environment that supports our emotional well-being. It may be necessary to switch to laundry detergent and self-care products that are scent-free, opting instead to fragrance your clothing by putting essential oils you enjoy and tolerate well on dryer balls.
Creating a Comforting and Uplifting Scent Environment
There are many ways you can use scent as part of your self-care practice. What works well for one person may not work at all for the next, especially in the neurodivergent world. Here are several possibilities you can explore if you’d like to add the delight of pleasurable aromas to your day while ensuring a sensory-friendly scent environment.
Naturally scented candles
One way to introduce pleasant fragrances into your home is through naturally scented candles. Made with essential oils and natural ingredients, these candles release soothing aromas when lit, creating a cozy atmosphere. Choose candles with scents that resonate with you and your mood, whether you’re seeking relaxation, inspiration, or comfort. For neurodiverse people, naturally scented candles are often better tolerated than candles scented with synthetic fragrances.
Essential oils are another great option for incorporating your favorite scents into your living space. They can be used in diffusers, added to a warm bath, or mixed with a carrier oil for topical application. Experiment with different oil combinations to create personalized blends that address your unique needs and preferences.
While some people tolerate all essential oils well, others do not. For example, some people with sensory sensitivities delight in floral scents, while floral scents are intolerable for others. It may be helpful to visit a vendor who will let you smell oils individually before making your purchase to ensure you won’t experience a negative effect.
If you choose to use essential oils topically, make sure the product is labeled for topical use and dilute the essential oil in a carrier oil such as fractionated coconut oil, almond oil, or jojoba oil. Test the mixture on a small patch of skin to ensure you have no adverse reaction and avoid any ingredients you are allergic to.
If you are easily overwhelmed by scents, experiment with a greater dilution of the essential oil. This can also mean putting fewer drops of your favorite essential oil into your diffuser for a milder experience. Be sure to check with your doctor and veterinarian to ensure that any oils you choose for your home are safe for the people and pets who live there. When creating a sensory-friendly scent environment, you will need to pay close attention to what is just right, verses what is over-the-top for your unique sensory needs.
Boiling herbs and citrus
For those sensitive to fragrances, boiling herbs and citrus with water on the stove can provide a subtle and natural aroma throughout your home. This method allows you to control the intensity of the scent, and you can customize the ingredients to suit your taste. Popular options include rosemary, lavender, lemon, and orange peels.
Introducing fresh flowers into your home not only adds a touch of natural beauty but also provides a gentle and pleasing fragrance. Select flowers with scents that you find particularly uplifting, such as roses, jasmine, or lilacs. To extend the life of your fresh blooms, change the water regularly and trim the stems at an angle.
Before bringing any plant into your home, research its toxicity, particularly if you have a pet or a child that may consume it without knowing potential hazards.
Cedarwood chips emit a warm, woodsy aroma that can be both calming and grounding. Place these chips in decorative bowls or small sachets around your home to subtly infuse your living spaces with this comforting scent. Cedarwood chips also have the added benefit of repelling moths and other pests.
Dried herbs in pouches
Dried herbs, such as lavender, rosemary, or chamomile can be placed in small pouches or sachets and strategically placed throughout your home. This technique allows you to enjoy the fragrances of your favorite herbs in a controlled manner, while also serving as a charming and decorative touch.
For a warm and inviting aroma, consider using cinnamon sticks in your home. These can be displayed in decorative jars or tied together with a ribbon and hung in various rooms. In addition to their delightful scent, cinnamon sticks can also be used in various DIY scent projects. Cinnamon sticks are particularly inviting in cold winter months as they invite a feeling of warmth into your home.
DIY Scent Projects for an Enhanced Mood
With a bit of creativity and exploration, you can personalize your sensory-friendly scent environment by diving into a DIY project. Here are a few ideas:
Baking bread at home
Nothing compares to the smell of freshly baked bread wafting through your home. Baking your own bread not only fills your living space with a comforting aroma but also provides a delicious and satisfying treat to enjoy. Experiment with different types of bread, from classic white loaves to aromatic focaccia to find your personal favorite.
Creating custom essential oil blends
Crafting your own essential oil blends allows you to combine the scents you love into a personalized fragrance that can be diffused, used in homemade candles, or applied topically with a carrier oil. Explore various combinations of essential oils to create a blend that perfectly suits your mood and preferences.
Crafting homemade potpourri
Potpourri is a simple and creative way to bring your favorite scents into your home. Combine dried flowers, herbs, spices, and essential oils to create a customized potpourri mix. Display your homemade potpourri in decorative bowls or jars, or use it to fill sachets to place in closets, drawers, or other small spaces.
Here is a link to a DIY scented sachet project.
In our next section, we’ll discuss how to tailor scents to personal needs and preferences, as well as how to share and celebrate our love for scents with friends and family.
Tailoring Scents to Personal Needs for a Sensory-Friendly Scent Environment
The impact of scents on our emotions and well-being is undeniable, and by carefully selecting fragrances that cater to your individual preferences, you can maximize their potential benefits. Since various aromas elicit unique responses in our minds and emotions, thoughtfully curating your scent experiences allows you to achieve specific goals or enhance particular moods and meet specific needs.
Adapting for scent sensitivities
For individuals with heightened scent sensitivities, it’s important to find ways to enjoy fragrances without causing discomfort. Opt for milder scents and natural ingredients, such as essential oils or herbs, and avoid artificial fragrances that may trigger negative reactions. Monitor your response to different scents and adjust your environment accordingly, ensuring your space remains a sanctuary for your senses.
Choosing scents for relaxation or energy
Different scents can evoke distinct moods and emotions. When selecting fragrances for your home, consider their potential effects on your well-being. For instance, lavender and chamomile are known for their calming properties, while citrus and peppermint can be energizing and uplifting. Tailor your scent choices to support your desired mood and create an atmosphere that fosters relaxation, productivity, or inspiration.
Balancing scents for overall well-being
Finding the right balance of scents in your home is key to promoting overall well-being. Consider using complementary fragrances throughout your living space, avoiding overpowering or conflicting aromas. Experiment with various scent combinations to find the perfect harmony that enhances your mood and supports your emotional well-being.
Sharing Scent Experiences
Scents have a way of bringing people together, whether it is taking in the aroma while you and your family picks a loaf of bread at your local bakery, or enjoying the smell of flowers while on a walk with a dear friend. By sharing scent experiences with others, you will create pleasant memories and emotions associated with those scents.
Discussing favorite scents with friends and family
Sharing your love for scents with friends and family can be a delightful way to connect and discover new fragrances. Engage in conversations about personal scent preferences, fond scent memories, and favorite aroma combinations. You may uncover new scents to explore or inspire others to try your favorites. Make this a topic for your next dinner get-together!
Creating scent-themed gatherings or events
Organizing gatherings or events centered around scents can be a unique and enjoyable experience. Host a DIY candle-making workshop, an essential oil blending party, or a potpourri crafting session. Such events provide an opportunity to bond with friends and family, while also creating personalized scent items to enjoy at home.
Coming together over a shared activity is a great way for autistic and other neurodiverse people to get to know each other in a less intense way. While having a central focus and activity, personalities will naturally shine without the pressure of having to know what to say next.
Embracing the power of scent in our daily lives can have a profound impact on our mood and overall well-being. By incorporating our favorite fragrances into our homes and sharing our scent experiences with others, we can create environments that nurture our emotional health and foster a deeper connection to our senses. So, go ahead and explore the world of scents, experiment with new combinations, and discover the aromas that resonate with your heart and soul while you create your sensory-friendly scent environment.
For more information about the importance of self-care for neurodivergent people, visit this blog post.