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by Beverly Palomba
Today’s population of children and adults with learning disabilities, including autism, Asperger syndrome, ADD, ADHD and Down syndrome, is growing. Recent research shows that the average lifespan of a person with Down syndrome in the U.S. is approximately 60 years. That’s an increase of 35 years since 1983! Autism has increased 289.5 percent, ADHD 33 percent and developmental disabilities 17 percent in the last 15 years.
The population is not only growing but getting older, and they need the same day-to-day life skills everyone else needs to be functional. Learning basic life skills, like cooking, is essential to functioning better as an adult and becoming independent. Here are six steps and helpful hints to teaching life skills cooking. The recipe for success when teaching cooking includes consistency, repetition and patience — with a large dash of humor.
I recommend breaking this into two days. Devote the first day to equipment and the second day to ingredients. Cooking should be fun, not overwhelming and stressful. Work together with your child in making decisions about the kitchen set-up, as this will help him stay focused and know how interested you are in him learning to cook.
Some helpful hints on storing and buying equipment:
Some helpful hints on storing and arranging ingredients:
This may seem like a simple step, but finding a recipe that has only a few ingredients (no more than four to start), step-by-step directions, a colorful picture, one recipe on the page, and a list of the equipment and ingredients needed can take some time. Having the right recipe is important. You want your child to be excited about the recipe they are cooking and to have a fun and successful experience. You don’t want them to be turned off by their first recipe because it was long and confusing.
Try going to the bookstore together and looking through some cookbooks, or search on the Internet. Be careful, though — some children’s recipes are much more complicated than you would expect. Read them carefully.
I have found it’s best to start with one very simple recipe and cook it a few times, until your child can complete the recipe on her own. Try starting with a trail mix or smoothie that can be done quickly and enjoyed.
Read the recipe with your child. You may have already done this when you were looking for the recipe but it will help her focus on her task. Reading the recipe before starting will also allow you to go over any questions she may have.
This is when all the time you spent setting up the kitchen pays off. First, focus on gathering the ingredients and putting them out on the counter. Then, gather the equipment and putting it on the counter. This is a good time to note if there are any organizational changes that need to be made later in your kitchen set-up. But stay focused on the recipe for now, and later, with your child, addresses steps he may have found difficult and look for ways to change that for next time.
Also, if your child is having difficulty focusing on the ingredients or equipment, cover the recipe with a piece of paper leaving only the part he is working on showing. Move the paper as you go.
Again, to help your child focus on one direction at a time, use a piece of paper to cover the directions except the one being worked on, or use sticky arrows. Put the arrow on the direction being worked. Once that step is completed, move the sticky arrow to the next direction.
Be consistent and repetitive. I can’t say this enough, except to add be patient and laugh. Learning to cook takes some time, but it’s rewarding and fun. Remember to always follow the same steps in the same order: read the recipe, gather the ingredients then gather the equipment. If you are using sticky arrows or paper to help follow the directions, have them ready.
Repeat the recipe a few times until your child is able to make it easily on her own.
Remember to laugh and give lots of praise. Give your family a head’s up on what’s coming so they are ready with the “wow, that’s great” comment. And, yes, there will be spills! Just remember to giggle and have your child join in on the clean up. It’s worth all your time and patience to help your child become independent in the kitchen. It will build her self-esteem and self-confidence, and together you’ll have fun!
Beverly Worth Palomba has been a teacher from pre-K through high school for more than 20 years. The past 11 years, she has worked exclusively in special education. She is the author of “Special Day Cooking: A Life Skills Cookbook.” For more information, visit www.specialdaycooking.com.