Sue's Blog

Autism, diagnosis and fragrance

This topic was discussed in several different talks during our 2016 Roadshow. In one, a woman approached me to ask:

“My child is about to be assessed for autism. Can diet prevent a diagnosis of autism?” 

Surprisingly, the answer to this is yes. There is a 40 page collection of autism success stories on our website regarding children who have been diagnosed with autism and some have recovered to the point of being “normal”, like this comment from the carer of a 5 yo autistic: 

“Off diet, he would be in the corner banging his head against the wall with no speech at all … on failsafe eating, he was back to normal development ” .

There are also some who have avoided the autism diagnosis.  This is backed by science – such as “Reduction of autistic traits following dietary intervention and elimination of exposure to environmental substances” (by K. Slimak, 2003 in which the author concluded that:  “a broad spectrum of severe and chronic autistic symptoms” are “fully reversible” ... the children in the program … returned to normal”
As you can see, it isn’t only about dietary intervention. Exposure to environmental substances includes perfume, and here’s the crunch. This mother was wearing a fragranced product that I myself could not tolerate (nausea and headaches). If I was a small child whose mother was wearing something like that, if she wanted to hug me I would exhibit symptoms such as pushing away, withdrawal, being very negative and antisocial, showing no emotional or social connection. 

So I mentioned to this mother as gently as I could that she was wearing a fragranced product that was really bothering me. Her reply (and I’ve heard this so many times before):

 “Oh, but I’m not wearing any perfume”!


Perfume is perfume, whether it is called parfum, fragrance or aroma, whether it is in a product called perfume or a product such as soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturiser, cosmetics or even in essential oils. Yes, I know they are natural, but they still smell.

This is what my gym instructor wrote when I asked her gently if she could wear less fragrance:

“It could be the body oil that I use as it does have a lot of different types of oils in it including  mandarin lime oil, rose hip and others, it’s a bit of a cocktail. I also put frankincense oil on just before I go to the gym it could be that. The other products I am wearing are dove deodorant, nivea face cream and a vo5 hair plaster. I didn't realise I wore so many different fragrances until i sat here and listed them. … I am more than happy not to wear them.  I certainly don't want you to feel sick or not be able to attend class because of what I am wearing.”

Sensitivity to fragrances

* About 30 per cent of adults report adverse reactions to fragranced products.
* In 2007, fragrances were named "allergen of the year" by the American Contact Dermatitis Society to highlight the 'real but potentially avoidable' problems caused by these allergens.
* Fragrance ingredients have been listed by the US National Academy of  Sciences as one of six categories of neurotoxic chemicals that should be more thoroughly investigated as primary causes of disease in humans (along with insecticides, heavy metals, solvents and food additives).

Excerpt from a personal story from a college student

 "Do people without allergies realize how badly they affect people that have allergies? The answer would be NO! For instance, well, I’m allergic to perfumes ... So, when in class, I have to find just the right seat, where a girl isn’t overly perfumed, but then they take out their fragrancey lotion and I have a nice allergy attack in the middle of lecture.

I love it when somebody puts on hair spray, lotion, or perfume when on an airplane. Hello, NO ventilation!!

I try to stay allergy free. Why should I have to suffer for what you think is a “pleasure”? Honestly, years ago, just about everything was fragrance free ... All I'm saying is, have respect for the people around you."

 - from Allergies! by Starving Student (the writer won a scholarship with her story)

The good news

There is a list of fragrance free products on our website shopping list. The good news is that more and more products are going fragrance free all the time. Why? Because fragranced products are not good for anyone – want to know why? See the EWG report: Not so sexy – hidden chemicals in perfume and cologne

Further reading

Reduction of autistic traits following dietary intervention and elimination of exposure to environmental substances, K Slimak, 2003

Not so sexy - hidden chemicals in perfume and cologne, EWG (Environmental working group) report: factsheet

Autism factsheet

Perfumes and fragrances story collection