The kitchen is the heart of a home. We gather there, we talk and share there, we find nourishment for our bodies and souls there. As the room where we often start and end our day, the kitchen is a welcoming place for the whole family.
For kids with autism, the kitchen also offers a cornucopia of fun learning opportunities for building important skills as well as confidence. Cooking itself is a veritable recipe for growing towards independence!
The Benefits of a Family Cooking Together for Children with Autism
Each time your child with autism helps out in the kitchen, the experience….
- Encourages them to socially interact and practice their social skills in a low-pressure environment. Social skills are vital for success in school and throughout life. Cooking with their family helps them to learn how to take turns, share responsibilities, and communicate with others.
- Expands their food preferences by introducing them to new foods and dishes. When kids have a hand in cooking food, they’re more likely to try what they’ve made. This is especially helpful for children who have aversions to food or sensory issues.
- Increases their independence, because cooking requires a lot of planning, organization, and problem-solving that help teach children practical life skills that can be applied and used in other areas of their life. (We ABA therapists call that generalization.)
- Builds their self-esteem. Successfully completing a task and being able to share the finished product with others can give your child a sense of accomplishment and pride. This is especially true for kids who may have negative experiences in social settings, like school, and struggle with academics, making friends, or other activities.
- Develops their fine motor skills. Cooking involves working with your hands and fingers, also known as fine motor skills. When your child is stirring, shaping, chopping, and measuring, they’re practicing they’re fine motor skills. Start with simple tasks and work up to more difficult ones. Cooking activities also help your child develop hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and the ability to follow instructions which are useful in many other activities in your child’s life.
Tips for Making Cooking Fun for Children with Autism
Children learn best when they’re enjoying themselves in the process. To help ensure your child has fun and benefits from the cooking experience with family, here are some important tips to consider before getting started.
- Think about your child’s safety and prepare them beforehand about what they shouldn’t touch in the kitchen, if they’re not able to follow simple instructions. Let them know why they can’t touch the stove, for example, because it could burn them. You can model the appropriate behavior for them or use labels or color-code items to tell your child what’s okay to use and what to stay clear of without asking for help first.
- Cook basic recipes with simple ingredients and easy steps. Using visual supports can help your child better understand each step and what the finished creation goal looks like. For example, you’re making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Visual aids could be pictures that represent the items involved (the ingredients and the utensils) and how to put them together.
- It’s a lot more fun to cook things we like, so focus on your child’s favorite foods to start. Like most children, teaching a child with autism is going to be much easier if you incorporate their interests and preferences. They’re more likely to stay focused on the task at hand if they’re cooking something they love to eat.
- Cooking naturally involves the senses. Is there anything about cooking that could trigger sensory overload in your child? A sensory issue could negatively impact their experience of cooking or preparing food. Make adjustments or plan ahead, but also encourage trying new things. Listen to your gut about what your child will tolerate. Even if your child doesn’t like touching food, they can still help out in the kitchen by setting the table or collecting ingredients from the pantry.
- Most importantly, be patient and celebrate your child’s successes along the way. If that peanut butter and jelly sandwich turns out a little messy, it will still be yummy.
With expert ABA therapy, a brighter future for your child is on the menu!
Two years old might be a little too young for cooking in the kitchen, but it’s just the right age to start ABA therapy, the gold standard in autism care and treatment.
Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy, as it’s also known, has been in practice for several decades. It’s proven to help children with autism in all the key areas of development, from communication and language to self-help, academic, and social skills.
Here at The Behavior Exchange, we offer all the right ingredients for your child to reach their full, wonderful potential in a fun, caring environment full of imagination and possibilities. We’re also proud to be a Behavioral Health Center of Excellence® with the highest accreditation possible for a center-based ABA therapy provider.