'Children with autism can't distinguish between pleasant and foul smell' - Study suggests

People are generally able to differentiate between foul and pleasant smells but this appears not to be the case for autism patients, as demonstrated during a trial at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Autistic child

Isreali researchers have said the way children sniff different aromas could form the basis of a test for autism.

According to the National Autistic Society, smell could eventually become an additional tool for testing for autism.

People are generally able to differentiate between foul and pleasant smells but this appears not to be the case for autism patients, as demonstrated during a trial at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

A red tube sent either pleasant or unpleasant odours up the nose while the green tube recorded changes in breathing patterns.

One of the researchers, PhD student Liron Rozenkrantz, said children normally altered the depth of their sniffing to the odours.

But Rozenkrantz said children with autism didn't show this modulation at all as they took the same sniff for the smell of shampoo as they did for rotten fish.

According to her, this was "striking and somewhat surprising."

The team developed a computer program that could detect autism in the group of children with 81% accuracy.

They also showed that the more severe the symptoms of autism, the longer the children inhaled the unpleasant smells.

The Weizmann Institute of Science team said that one of the advantages of a sniffing test was that it did not rely on the child being able to communicate so it may be useful at a very early age.

Autism often takes until a child is at least two before it can be diagnosed, and behaviour, social interactions and communication skills are all affected by the disorder which affects one in every 160 children globally.

While acknowledging the find as "interesting", Rozenkrantz however said the team needs to know at what age children start to develop a sniff response in the general population, adding that the research still has a long way to go.

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