A fussy eater child on the spectrum can be assisted to overcome some of their sensory difficulties by introducing them to a range of kitchen activities.
Teaching a child on the spectrum to cook is not about raising a child, it is about raising an adult!
It is dinner time and your child is having a total meltdown. This has become the norm now, it makes your heart pound faster and your stress level go higher. Everything it appears can trigger your child. The air-conditioned is too noisy, the smell of food is too strong, the foods that touch each other, now that can be a deal-breaker! Children on the spectrum are more likely to be highly selective eaters!
So there you are having to anticipate and avoid the next meltdown to make your life easier. The point is you can see this is self-limiting, you worry that you are a prisoner as much as your child is. Can they grow out of it?
Why not involve your child in cooking activities? Many ASD children I see can learn some cooking skills. At this stage you may think that there is no way your child can learn to cook! No way they can touch this food and certainly no way they can handle smells. Yet cooking is a wonderful way to provide some exposure to new foods, it also enables all children to learn skills and knowledge they will need to become independent.
Learning to cook is healthy
There I have said it. Research shows that for all the nutrition we are obsessing about, it’s cooking that we need to be healthy. Children on the spectrum will grow up and hopefully become independent so they need to learn to cook. Cooking provides low-pressure fun sensory experiences that prime your child to eat new foods eventually.
Beyond giving your child the sensory exposures and experiences they need to feel comfortable eating new foods, cooking builds confidence and independence.
Meet your child where they are
You know your child best so think about the environment you will operate in. It not only needs to be secure, but also match your child’s sensory specificities (think tactile, auditory and visual and go easy) as well as motor skills abilities (assist those with low muscle tone). Remember to model for those children who need numerous demonstrations. You can open windows if smells are a problem. You may reduce noise or dim lights if necessary. You could also use music you find is conducive to the activity.
Ensure your child learns to ask for help
Before the activity starts make it clear that at any time a grown up is here to help. Repeat and reassure every time you can see your child is getting anxious. Have them take a break if needed.
From simple sensory experience for younger children to full on cooking for older children
Provide some tactile experiences
- Mixing rice with spices, or washing vegetables in a sink of water,
- Breaking eggs and mixing them.
- Mixing and shaping dough.
Provide some creative cooking experience
- Mixing foods with herbs, spices, fats, or else.
- Explore taste, flavour and texture to create foods that children enjoy.
Provide an opportunity to learn skills
- Teach about ingredients (refrigerator, pantry, shop, market, garden)
- Measure quantities and temperature
- Teach the older children how to cut and peel vegetables (kiddie kutters or Foost, knives and peelers are best).
- Show what happens when food cook.
- Teach about safety.
- Slowly give children some level of responsibilities and input (e.g presentation, seasoning, timing etc).
- If your child is tired and cranky or starving, then it is not the ideal time to get cooking. Start earlier.
If your child is on the spectrum then it is very likely they are undergoing many hours of therapy during the week. All of these will help your child acquire important skills for life. Likewise, teaching an autistic child some cooking skills will allow them more independence from you eventually. Cooking increases familiarity and confidence with food. You may have to make initial adjustments to get started but it will pay off. Enjoy!
Teaching a child on the spectrum to cook is not about raising a child, it is about raising an adult.
#autism #fussyeating #extremefussyeating #kidsonthespectrum #adhd