Day 7: In the Kitchen with the Child with Special Needs

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Since becoming a mother, I probably spend more time in the kitchen than anywhere else in my house.  I often think about how many lessons could come from sharing this space with a child.  My son, however, wants very little to do with the kitchen except for eating the result of whatever happens in there.

It is sometimes discouraging to find images on Pinterest that display a child kneading dough beside a parent.  You wonder if your child will ever show an interest in the place you spend hours in and if he’ll ever be able to participate in kitchen activities. This post gives you simple tips you can put to use by lunchtime today.

 

Cooking Pinterest screenshot

Oh, how I long to have kitchen connections with my little one. Some of the ideas on Pinterest only remind me how much harder it is for families of children with special needs to include their child in meal preps.

Why cooking and baking may be a challenge for children with special needs

  • Children with sensory aversions are exposed to tons of sensory experiences in the kitchen.  The many scents, the texture of certain foods on the hands, the sounds of pots and pans clanging can be too much for some children to handle.
  • Children with fine motor delays may find it difficult to participate in kitchen activities.
  • Children with gross motor delays may not have easy access to counters and appliances.

In the Kitchen with the Child with Special Needs

Suggestions for adaptations/ modifications for cooking and baking

  • Be sure your child is in the right mood.  This tip probably applies to any of the activities in this series.  However, since the kitchen involves grown-up utensils and appliances, it’s important to err on the side of caution when involving a child in this space.  You know best if your child is up to it today.  On the other hand, cooking/ baking can be a very calming activity for some children.  If you know that this might be the case, gently let your child know that you’re going to bake cookies today and follow his lead.
  • Plan the positioning.  If your child can stand on his own, decide where you’ll have him stationed.  If he can’t reach the counter, can you use a lower table?  Or a sturdy child-safe stool?  If your child needs support in standing, can you use his standing frame?  Will he be able to see over the counter?  If not, can you add a lower surface?  If neither are possible, will he be seated in his adapted chair?  Does he have a tray or access to a table of proper height?  Positioning is critical to think about because you don’t want your child climbing chairs to see properly or banging his head on the counter because he’s right at forehead level (spoken from an experienced mom who, with egg on her hands, had to tend to her child’s little forehead bruise).
  • Prepare ingredients ahead of time.  Again, this is a tip that works for all other activities, but in the kitchen, time is of essence.  When you have a child joining you, it behooves you to have the ingredients measured, the bowls out, the pan greased and the oven preheated.  However, you might decide that these are things you want your child work on with you, and you’ll maybe finish up the rest of the recipe yourself. It all depends what your goal is on a particular day.

playdough tools can be used in the kitchen with a child with special needs

These play dough tools can be used in the kitchen. Or, alternatively, use them while playing with play dough as pre-kitchen practice.

scoopers - in the kitchen with the child with special needs

This variety of scoopers make playing with flour fun.

utensils - in the kitchen with the child with special needs

I recommend exposing your child to authentic kitchen tools. However, using child-friendly utensils may be more motivating to use as they may be more familiar to your child.

  • Keep the recipes short.  If this is your first experience in the kitchen, and you have all the prep work done (see previous tip), then you have very little else to do but to pour, mix, and place in the oven.  Even 5 minutes of kitchen work is a lot for some children.  If the process is quick, they will show a greater interest to participate next time.
  • Build in opportunities for success.  Try to incorporate skills your child is already good at. If you know that he can stir, have him do it while you praise him.  If your child struggles with fine motor skills, help him with a skill by standing behind him and offering to do it hand-over-hand.  Either way, praise, praise, praise.

chopping smelling and twisting wm

Chopping, smelling spices, twisting jars, and picking up food pieces from the floor are all great skills to build in the kitchen.  And, please do wash and use the food that falls on the floor – especially if your child did the work of chopping them!

  • Include language practice.  Oh, how the kitchen offers plenty of opportunities for building language skills:  “Round and round and round” while stirring, “roll, roll, roll” while rolling the dough , “pat, pat, pat” while flatting dough, etc.  Use signs or PECS, or other AAC.  Sing food or cooking-related songs and recite baking rhymes.

apple sauce collage2

Making applesauce allows for so much skill practice. We worked on cutting, mashing, tasting spices, and stirring. Tip for children with fine motor difficulties: use a child-friendly knife with a wide handle and head. This one is from Ikea and has a curved handle for comfortable thumb placement. We did this hand-over-hand as a first time cutting-with-a-tool practice.

  • Don’t force the sensory experiences.  If touching dough makes your child gag, don’t force him to touch it in those first sessions.  He can observe you as you manipulate it and talk about how it feels.  At first, only involve him in the activities he can handle. With time, see if he’ll touch it with one finger.  And, continuously build it up.  It might take months of exposure before he can accept touching a certain texture.  Be patient and encouraging.  But, don’t focus on it by making a huge deal about it.

Do you spend time with your child in the kitchen?  What kinds of skills do you work on?   

Are you looking for more specific direction for your child’s needs?  We can work through them in a one-on-one consultation.

Learn how I can guide you

 

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