Cooking with your Child with Autism

Many celebrations throughout the year are marked by families and friends communicating their love in preparing their favorite dishes or meals for one another. Think about your fondest memories and they probably involve food in some way. Cooking is a fun and engaging activity that can bring families together, and when it comes to cooking with a child with autism, the benefits can be even greater.

Children with autism can often have difficulty with social skills and communication, but cooking can provide a safe and structured environment for them to interact, connect and learn the necessary life skills that will support their independence into adulthood.

Here are some tips on how you and your ASD child can experience the positive benefits of cooking together:


Safety First!

Before you get started, keep in mind that these are simply general suggestions. You as a parent, know your child best. Base your safety considerations on your child’s current skills and determine if these recommendations are appropriate for your child.

For example, it would not be safe for a child to use the stove if they’re unable to follow simple directions or if there is even a small chance they will touch the hot surface. Even something as simple as opening a hot oven door can come with the risk of burns. Teach your child what items in the kitchen are dangerous and how they could hurt them. Show them pictures or get real objects and model the appropriate behavior to use when around those specific items. You can also label or color code items that are “ok” to use and items that are “off-limits” when preparing and/or cooking food. Take time to thoroughly discuss kitchen safety so that you don’t put your child at risk of hurting themselves or others while cooking, and remember to have FUN!   


Assess your child’s abilities.

As you probably know, autism spectrum disorder can manifest different symptoms in different children. Can your child understand measurements or is this a skill that needs to be improved? Do they know what “tbsp” and “tsp” represent or how to measure one-fourth (1/4) or one-third (1/3) cup? Be sure to consider the specific skills your child will need to complete a particular recipe before you start cooking. While you certainly know your child best, it’s always a good idea to coordinate with their ABA therapist to get the most accurate possible gauge of their initial cooking skills.


Focus on their favorite foods.

Consider what your child likes to eat when teaching them about cooking or working on life skills like preparing meals. Like with 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 and interested in what you are teaching them if you’re cooking something they know they like to eat. 


Use basic recipes and visual supports.

Introduce your child to cooking by providing easy-to-follow recipes with basic ingredients. Provide simple instructions with pictures that represent each step of the process and or videos that make it easier for your child to follow along. For example, if you are teaching them how to make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you start with a picture of gathering the ingredients and utensils (bread, jelly, peanut butter, and spoon for each as well as a plate to place the sandwich on) and then putting the bread on the plate and so on.


Provide prompts.

Prompting can help a child complete a task. You want your child to be successful while also encouraging them to be more independent by practicing a new skill on their own. Examples of prompts you might use include:

  • Positional prompts (strategically placing items)
  • Physical prompts (physically helping or guiding a child to complete a step in the process)
  • Gestural prompts (using gestures, like pointing, in a way that tells the child what to do)
  • Visual prompts (anything visually, like a picture or video, that the child can see and helps them complete a step)
  • Verbal prompts (verbally explaining how to do something)


Consider sensory experiences.

Consider a child’s sensory experience as it relates to food. Some children with autism have sensory issues that could negatively impact their experience while cooking or preparing food. Some children cannot tolerate certain textures or smells of food they consume or touch.  Sometimes, it’s helpful to compassionately teach children to overcome the things they find aversive while other times it’s important to accommodate these types of things and simply find alternative ways to encourage your child to develop cooking skills to support their quality of life and independence.


Fine Motor Skills.

Cooking involves a lot of fine motor skills such as chopping, stirring, and measuring ingredients. Fine motor skills are the skills involved with making small motor movements with our hands and fingers. Some of the fine motor skills required in cooking or preparing food could be challenging for some children with autism. To help children develop their fine motor skills, offer your child activities that require them to use their hands and fingers (even outside of cooking-related activities). You can also select cooking utensils and tools created to help people with fine motor skill difficulties. Start simple and work up to more difficult tasks. These activities help to develop hand-eye coordination, dexterity, and the ability to follow directions. Continue encouraging your children to practice these skills as they will be helpful as they grow into adulthood.


Enjoy the benefits.

You and your child can both enjoy the many benefits of cooking together.

  • Encourages Social Interaction: Cooking with a child with autism provides an opportunity to engage in social interaction and improve social skills in a safe and fun environment. It allows them to learn how to take turns, share responsibilities, and communicate with others. This can be especially helpful for children who struggle with social skills.
  • Expands Food Preferences: Involving your child in the cooking process can be a great way to introduce new foods and expand their preferences. When your child has a part in creating what they are going to eat they may be more willing to try new foods and flavors. This can be especially helpful for children who have food aversions or sensory issues.
  • Increases Independence: Cooking requires a lot of planning, organization, and problem-solving that help teach children practical life skills. Learning how to follow a recipe, measure ingredients, and use kitchen tools safely are skills that can help your child become more independent while improving their executive function skills.
  • Builds Self-Esteem: Cooking is a great way to build a child’s 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 children who may have negative experiences in social settings like school and may struggle with academics, making friends, or other activities.

Cooking with your child can be a fun and rewarding experience that creates fond memories while providing many positive benefits, especially for children and families affected by autism. It provides an opportunity to engage in social interaction, enhances fine motor skills, expands food preferences, increases independence, and builds self-esteem. It’s a great way to spend quality time together while teaching important life skills your child can take into adulthood. So, what are you waiting for? Get in the kitchen and start cooking!


Have questions or need help finding an accredited ABA therapy? It’s never too early to start ABA therapy. Kids as young as two can benefit from the gold-standard treatment for autism.

Here at The Behavior Exchange, all of our programs and services, including One-on-One Therapy, Behavior Exchange Early Start (B.E.E.S.) for preschoolers, and Social Skills Groups for school-aged kids, are focused on social skills development in the context of a child’s individual goals.

Our hives in North Texas (PlanoFriscoProsper) and Boulder, Colorado are built to encourage learning and fun for children of all abilities. 

For more information and to get started, email or complete this contact form. We can help your child learn social skills and reach their full, meaningful potential!





Ashvina attended University of Bombay and graduated with a Bachelors of Commerce. She got her Montessori Diploma in 1985 and taught ever since. Ashvina came to TBE in January of 2016 as Admin Assistant. During the years she got the opportunity to learn and work in different departments such as HR, Finance, Office Manager and Executive Assistant. Last summer TBE bought billing in house and her current focus area is Revenue Cycle Management. She is detail oriented and enjoys working with people. Ashvina volunteers to deliver meals to seniors and local shelters on the weekend. She loves to spend time with her family and grandkids. Ashvina loves her job because she enjoys hearing different points of view, and she feels her contributions help fuel the direction of our company.

Working with children comes naturally to Angela. Her mom was a special education teacher for 30 years and often had Angela join her for Take Your Child to Work Day. And in high school, Angela spent every summer as the nanny for a little boy with an autism spectrum disorder. It was this experience where her passion for working with children with autism started to blossom.

From there, she went on to graduate from Oklahoma State University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences. She learned about Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) in a non-normative development class and from that moment knew that ABA would be her life’s work.

Angela moved to the DFW area shortly after and began working at The Behavior Exchange as a therapist. She worked on her Master’s in Behavior Analysis at the same time. A year after graduating, she earned certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst.

Now, as a Clinical Director at The Behavior Exchange, she brings a life-long passion to her work, holding a special place in her heart for children with limited language skills and working closely with families to develop healthy sleep habits.

Danielle’s passion for working with families is deeply personal and from the heart. Her younger brother has an autism spectrum disorder, and through their journey as a family, she found her purpose in life as an advocate for individuals with special needs.

After graduating from the University of North Texas with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Danielle began volunteering at The Behavior Exchange. She saw passionate therapists, meaningful change for clients, and families with hope for the future. After a summer of volunteering, she officially joined the team as Director of Admissions and found her home with The Behavior Exchange family.

With her extensive experience working as a client advocate with insurance providers, Danielle perseveres to help individuals of all ages and abilities receive the services they need to reach their full potential. She feels truly honored by each and every family who entrusts The Behavior Exchange to be part of their journey and is committed to the organization’s core values, mission, and goal of being a beacon of hope for the community.

Adam has always had a passion for helping individuals of all ages thrive and reach their full potential. He’s also an enthusiastic musician, songwriter, leader, and devoted family man, who has been helping children and team members grow with The Behavior Exchange since 2010.

Prior to joining the team at The Behavior Exchange, Adam was a mortgage loan consultant and grad student, pursuing his master’s degree in Education at the University of North Texas. He graduated in 2013 and also earned a graduate academic certificate in Autism Intervention. The following year, after years as a Behavior Therapist and seeing first-hand the power of ABA and the meaningful impact it can have on children and their families, Adam became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. He then commenced from the Stagen Leadership Academy after completing the Integral Leadership Program (ILP), a 52-week practice-based program designed to develop executives serious about transforming themselves, their teams, and their organizations.

Adam is truly grateful to be a part of a dynamic, inspiring and compassionate team, and he’s dedicated to bettering the lives of all children and their families through the delivery of the highest quality of ABA services, while supporting the amazing team at The Behavior Exchange.

Soraya is from South Africa and moved to Texas in 1996. She graduated from The University of Texas and pursued a career, at that time, in Education. Soraya taught at a Montessori school for a few years and then took on a leadership role.

During her time in the education system, Soraya realized her passion was to assist children with special needs. So she joined The Behavior Exchange as a therapist, transitioned into a supervisory role in 2017, and a year and a half later, was promoted to Clinical Operations Manager.

She quickly learned the ins and outs of ABA operations and scheduling and successfully collaborates across departments to ensure The Behavior Exchange continues to provide quality services to clients and their families. She’s thankful to be part of such an amazing organization and excited to see what the future holds.

You could say Walter’s career started when he spent hours as a young child drawing superheroes and coloring maps. This passion, along with extraordinary swimming skills, landed him a full swimming scholarship at Texas Christian University, where he graduated in 1997 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Graphics.

During the next 13 years, his design and art direction skills, conceptual-thinking abilities, and marketing-savvy know-how were honed at a few prestigious advertising and marketing agencies around the Dallas area. In the mid 2000s, he helped his wife Tammy Cline-Soza (founder and CEO of The Behavior Exchange) create a unique and concise brand for her new business. From logos and websites to uniforms, brand voice and visuals, Walter has been the main creative force for all things The Behavior Exchange.

Aside from giving birth to The Behavior Exchange brand, Walter is helping Tammy raise two amazing, beautiful children, River and Sierra. In his spare time (the two minutes he’s got per week), you can find Walter illustrating iconic landmarks of Dallas and Texas or looking around for this next open-water swim. Once he gets back in shape.

After 20 years of building The Behavior Exchange, literally from the ground up,
Tammy couldn’t be more proud of the team, culture, and organization that it has become.

As a family helping families, The Behavior Exchanges looks for opportunities that will make the biggest impact and produce life-changing outcomes – for clients, families, and even for team members. Tammy believes that if a team, a family, a community takes care of each other, the possibilities are endless and the relationships built along the way can make life more enriching and challenges easier to navigate. You could say her goal has been to build a kind of utopia full of support, love, and expertise that brings the best services possible to the community and ensures more families have access to those services.

Tammy and her family have dedicated their lives to the mission of The Behavior Exchange and continue to grow, learn, cultivate, challenge, support, and create better models for success. To that end, she is committed to her own leadership development and actively participates in advanced training, mentoring, and deep self-exploration on how to live out her purpose to love and support her family and help others reach their full potential. She takes her position very seriously and tries to serve as a channel for what the universe wants to come to fruition.

She also loves travel, gardening, being creative, MUSIC!, tennis, yoga, meditation, journaling, reading, being in nature, adventures, and more than anything, spending time with her husband Walter and their two beautiful children, River and Sierra.