The Gustatory Sensory System and Ideas You Can Do at Home

Updated: Apr 6

Simply Put, a recap; Sensory Integration or Sensory Processing is the neurological process that organizes sensory information received from one’s own body and the environment making it possible to interact and respond effectively. Sensory Processing is the relationship between the brain and behavior.


kids biting lemon the gustatory system by kozie clothes

There are 9 sensory systems:

  • Visual/Eyes

  • Auditory/Sound

  • Tactile/Touch

  • Taste

  • Smell/Olfactory

  • Vestibular

  • Proprioceptive

  • Gustatory

  • Interoception


Our focus for these ideas will be the Gustatory Sensory System


Simply Put, the Gustatory Sensory System is the sense of taste. This is a complex system that starts with food entering the mouth where it comes into contact with the tongue. The little bumps that cover your tongue are called papilla. The papilla holds several taste buds which consist of tasting cells. These cells interact with chemical structures which activate nerve impulses sending signals to the brainstem, and then to the brain Gustatory Cortex. This system helps us discern between safe and hazardous foods. Sensory Taste is not the same as what we think of as “flavor”. Flavor is the blend of taste and smell (Olfactory and Gustatory) sensations evoked by a substance in the mouth as described. Therefore, it is important to understand that the sense of smell plays an important role to children who are sensitive to taste.


The proprioceptive sensory system (chewing pressure) and the tactile sensory system (texture) can also impact how a child deals with food. Different from the gustatory system, they can play an important role working together in how your child will deal with food. The sense of Taste is a basic sense and is encountered through the sensory organs described above. The five basic taste sensations are:

  • Sweet

  • Sour

  • Bitter

  • Salty

  • Savory

As mentioned with our previous Simply Put sensory system blogs, children who have difficulty processing Gustatory or Taste sensory information can exhibit hyposensitivity or hypersensitivity. They may demonstrate some of the following behaviors;


kid picky eater the gustatory system by kozie clothes

Hypersensitivity

  • Picky eater - extreme limited variety of foods

  • Fussy baby with extreme eating difficulties

  • Difficulty with food temperature (too hot or cold)

  • Difficulty with food textures

  • Gagging during meals

  • Difficulty maintaining weight

  • Difficulty with oral care, teeth brushing, going to the dentist

  • Extreme emotional reactions and agitation with food

  • Great difficulty with certain tastes

Hyposensitivity

  • Frequent Drooling

  • Seems unaware of spicy or hot food

  • May lick objects frequently

  • Frequent mouthing or chewing of non-edible objects; constant chewing of shirt collar, eating sand, chewing pencils, etc.


It is important to remember when assessing sensory processing that children can appear to have symptoms or characteristics of processing issues. It only becomes a disorder when the symptoms become severe enough to affect the normal activities of the child’s day and hamper everyday life.


*** When a child has serious difficulty with gustatory processing, please consider the guidance of an experienced Occupational Therapist that specializes in gustatory sensory dysfunction. Your child may need to participate in feeding therapy or require oral activities within a “sensory diet” https://www.sensorysmartparent.com/sensory-diet to carry out and be monitored.


Activity Suggestions for Home to Help Provide Valuable Input Through The Gustatory Sensory System

Oral activities which enhance the proprioceptive input can be very calming.

  • Sniff and describe the smell without using vision

  • Blowing up balloons

  • Blowing bubbles

  • Chewing gum

  • Suck on lollipops or popsicles

  • Draw with smelly markers

  • Drinking from a straw-especially thick liquids

  • Blowing a ping pong ball through a handmade maze

  • Blog a cotton ball through a straw and make it a race

  • Have your child help with baking for the smells and tastes

  • Vibrating toothbrush provides added proprioceptive input and may help calm

  • Practice whistling to songs, make everyone guess what song

  • Touch with tongue and describe the taste without vision. Make sure to use safe non-noxious tastes to enhance trust

  • Present foods in new ways including textures, temperature, etc. Your child may prefer a dried cherry to a fresh one because of the different texture

  • Using a straw, blog bubbles in the bath or in a sink. Watch them grow!

  • Playing with sensory bins can help introduce different textures, smells, etc.

  • Incorporate snacks during the day that are chewy or crunchy


** Again, always take note how activities affect your child. Look at what they can tolerate and change it they cannot.

With any activity suggestion, make it fun! Children register sensory experiences and learn best when they are having fun.

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