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Building Self-help Skills through Cooking

John is a 10-year-old boy with autism. He just started fifth grade and is excited about the new school year. John tries to make friends at school and wants to fit in with the other kids. His teacher, Mrs. Jane, has noticed that unlike his peers, John has a difficult time with basic life skills. Some of these skills include tying his shoes, buttoning his shirt, feeding himself appropriately, and stating his address and phone number. After talking with his parents, Mrs. Jane learns that John also has a hard time following directions at home, getting dressed, and showering himself.

While for most kids, some of these skills come naturally with age through watching their parents or siblings, children with autism do not always acquire these skills in the same way as their peers. Thus, self help skills, helps make it possible for kids to meet their own needs in a step by step fashion. Regardless of their abilities, all children should learn to become as independent as possible to give them confidence and improve their quality of life.

Why self- help skills are important

Children can learn to become independent if they are provided with opportunities to take responsibility for themselves. When children practice self-help skills such as feeding and dressing themselves, they practice their large and fine motor skills, gain confidence in their ability to try new things and build their self-esteem and take pride in their independence.

Building self help skills through cooking

Children have a drive to be independent and do things on their own. This is a healthy part of typical child development. As children grow, they learn to do more and more tasks.

There are different types of self-help skills and one of them is being able to fix a snack for themselves independently.

Teaching your child how to cook is a great educational bonding activity. Cooking and using recipes provides the opportunity to work on the following skills:

  • Sequencing skills

  • Listening skills

  • Reading skills

  • Math skills (especially for measuring and adjusting recipes.)

In addition, cooking can teach children the concept of nutrition, portioning, and using kitchen equipment, all of­­ which are useful skills for children to learn at any age.

Teaching kids with autism how to cook has tremendous benefits, but there are challenges that are present.

Here are seven tips for making cooking a fun and educational experience:

• Choose a favourite dish

Choose dishes that your child loves to eat. Making a dish your child likes is something that will probably attract and hold their attention.

• Recipes Need to be Age Appropriate

Be sure to pick one recipe that is appropriate for their age. Younger children who have not yet learned how to use the stove should stick to non-cooking/ no- heat recipes. On the other hand, older children who have been exposed to the stove could be working on more practical recipes that they would be able to make on their own. Like putting together a sandwich, frying an egg, toasting bread

• Keep it Simple and Concrete

After choosing the most suitable dish, present the recipe in a manner that your child can understand. The text should be simple and direct. Using visual aids alongside helps with better understanding and provides a what comes next in the sequence.

• Making it Fun

Before the actual cooking begins, it is important to spend some time clarifying basic identification of the ingredients being used. Allow them to taste/ smell/ feel each ingredient separately, this helps with reinforcing the name of the ingredient.

• Hygiene

After your child has learned the names of ingredients being used, it would be wise to talk about the importance of hygiene and food safety procedures. Demonstrating these healthy habits is important such as showing them how to wash their hands properly before handling any food. For older students it could mean learning how to wear oven mitts, being instructed to wash their hands after handling raw meat (as well as before cooking), and proper handling of food when serving.

• Sharing is Caring

The best part of cooking food is sharing the love. This is a great way to teach younger children sharing by having them bring what they made to their friends or classmates. Older students could invite peers in for a snack or meal and serve them and share food with them. It is no secret that food brings people together for social interaction and it gives the students who did the cooking an opportunity to be proud of their masterpieces.


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