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Cooking with Children with Autism

Updated: Jan 22

For kids with autism, cooking can be a wonderful opportunity to connect, interact, and impart important life skills. Some children could even desire to improve their culinary abilities and show an interest in picking up more sophisticated techniques. We'll go through some suggestions for fostering your child's culinary abilities.

How to Get Started Cooking with Children with Autism

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First of all, keep in mind that the advice we'll talk about are merely broad ones. As a parent, you should think about whether these recommendations are suitable for your child. For instance, it simply wouldn't be safe for some children to learn how to prepare scrambled eggs on the stove if they can't follow straightforward instructions or if there's even a remote possibility that they'll touch the hot burner or endanger their safety in some other manner.

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It is also important to note that teaching children to cook, especially those with autism, is an excellent method to boost their early independence and lay the groundwork for later independence.

Assess the Child’s Abilities

When teaching cooking to children with autism, it's important to take into account whether the child can grasp measurements or if this is a skill that needs to be developed. For instance, some kids could struggle with recipes that use "tbsp" or "tsp" for tablespoon or teaspoon. Some children may have trouble understanding fractions like 13 (one-third) or 14. (one-fourth). Consider the special abilities required to complete a particular dish while teaching autistic children to cook.

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Taking the child's preferences into account

Take into account the child's preferences when attempting to educate autistic youngsters how to prepare certain dishes or striving to increase their independence with this task. When educating children with autism, taking into account their preferences and interests will help the child acquire a new skill much more quickly and increase the likelihood that they will be interested in what you are attempting to teach them.

A child who enjoys eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches is a good illustration of how to use the child's tastes when teaching cooking techniques. It might be possible to teach this kid how to prepare his own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Advice on Beginning to Cook with Children with Autism

Providing very simple, simple-to-follow recipes is one method to get youngsters with autism started cooking. It could be something downloaded from the internet or something created by a parent, teacher, or therapist. The goal is to give the youngster easy-to-follow directions for preparing a specific meal or snack, preferably with illustrations to illustrate each step.

This can be demonstrated by showing a young child how to prepare a bowl of cereal. It is possible to produce a picture book with illustrations showing each step involved in preparing a bowl of cereal. Each photo in the picture book can also have a written description of each stage.

Employ a video model.

Autism-related children frequently learn best visually. If you can find a video of someone preparing a specific cuisine or if you can create your own video, you may have your child view it before they prepare it and even use it as support as they do so. For children with autism, being able to observe a task being accomplished rather than reading about it or viewing a 2D representation of the process can be very beneficial.

Set up prompts

Prompting entails assisting a young person in finishing a task. It's critical to support children's development while also motivating them to practice a new skill on their own. Using prompts, you can educate children with autism how to prepare meals. Prompts like these can be used to teach cooking techniques:

  • vocal directions (explaining how to do something)

  • visual directions (anything the child can see visually which helps them complete a step)

  • physical cues (physically helping or guiding a child to complete a particular step in the process)

  • gestural cues (pointing, etc. in a way that tells the child what to do)

  • positioning cues (strategic placement of items)

Take into account the kid's sensory experiences

Some autistic kids have sensory difficulties that could make cooking or meal preparation unpleasant for them. When it comes to food, it's crucial to take a child's sensory experience into account. For instance, some children find some odours to be extremely overpowering or even intolerable. Some children are unable to tolerate particular food textures. Making some foods, especially those that require touching something they are uncomfortable with, can be challenging for certain people since they would find certain textures on their hands to be extremely uncomfortable. Anything could be this. For instance, some children might not want to play with dough (like cookie dough or doughs made with flour).

The main lesson here is to approach cooking skills with consideration for your child's sensory experience. Other times, it's important to be understanding of these types of things and merely find alternative ways to encourage the child to develop cooking and food preparation skills to support their quality of life and independence. Sometimes it's helpful to compassionately teach children to overcome the things they find aversive.

Fine Motor Skills

Some autistic kids struggle with fine motor skills. The ability to move our hands and fingers with little movements requires fine motor abilities. When it comes to preparing or cooking food, several different types of fine motor abilities are needed. Using silverware, spreading anything with a butter knife (like cream cheese or peanut butter), or applying the right amount of pressure while cutting fruit or a loaf of handmade bread are some of the fine motor skills that may be difficult for some children with autism. Even older kids who can practice using a vegetable peeler may find it challenging to use this kitchen utensil.

Offer your child activities that demand them to use their hands and fingers to assist them improve their fine motor skills (even outside of cooking-related activities). Additionally, you can carefully choose kitchenware and products that assist those who struggle with fine motor skills. You can gradually advance to more challenging jobs. Start by teaching the child how to make a meat and cheese sandwich, for instance, so they can put the already-sliced pieces of each ingredient together to make the sandwich. Later, they can learn to spread a condiment on the sandwich or to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which requires more fine motor skills than simply placing one item on top of another.

Children with autism may be able to gain more self-reliance when it comes to food preparation and cooking. Take into account your child's tastes, fine motor skills, and sensory experiences when teaching them how to cook. Some of the teaching strategies you can use include providing recipes or visual supports, using a video model, and providing prompts.

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