It’s a known fact that people tend to smell the delightful fragrance of roses for a longer duration compared to the foul odor of rotten fish. However, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology, such difference in reaction is not observed in children suffering from autism. The said study has been published on Thursday, July 2.

During the study, the researchers tested 36 children at the Weizmann Institute of Science. It was basically a ten minute experiment, during which unpleasant or pleasant odors were sent up the nose of the participants by means of a red tube. A green tube, on the other hand, was used for recording changes in the breathing patterns of the participants.


Liron Rozenkrantz, a member of the research team and a PhD student, said that children usually alter the depth of sniffing according to the type of odor. She added that this modulation was found to be completely absent in kids with autism.

Irrespective of the kind of odor they smelt, the autism affected kids kept on taking the same sniffs. Their reactions were similar for the smell of rotten fish and shampoo. Rozenkrantz described this finding as somewhat surprising and striking.

The researchers developed a computer program that successfully detected autism in children participating in the study with an accuracy of 81%. They also succeeded in showing that the graver the autism symptoms were the longer was the durations for which the kids inhaled the bad smells.

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According to the researchers at Weizmann Institute of Science, one of the most prominent benefits of using this sniffing test is that it’s a test that doesn’t depend on the child’s ability of communicating. Thus, it can help in diagnosing autism even before the child starts uttering words. This in turn will enable early diagnosis of the condition, which is good news as the earlier a child gets diagnosed with autism the sooner he or she can be exposed to educational or behavioral interventions.

However, Rozenkrantz cautioned that before using this sniff test for diagnostic purposes, it’s important to know the age at which children usually start developing sniff response. She added that to date no one has tried to find out whether babies are born with the ability to respond to smells or they develop it later in life.