“Always start out with a larger pot than you think you need.”
Independence and self-reliance are key deficit areas among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). This continues into adulthood, primarily when a program for the vital Transition into Adulthood is unavailable and Day Programs are not readily accessible. This is a widespread, overwhelming problem in the state of Alabama. National analysis measures recently revealed Alabama to be the worst state in America to have a child with ASD. As these children mature, continued absence of instruction/care is faced, reinforcing the hallmark dependency factor. Cooking/availability of nutritional meals and daily supplements are a large part of this dependency. Inadequate/lacking knowledge of general culinary skills to prepare nutritional foods with suggested/necessary diet changes is based upon lack of instruction/utilities. There is limited research on instructional strategies for teaching these strategic dialing living skills to this population.
Individuals with ASD have marked difficulties related to skills involved with preparation of food. Multiple skill-sets are required with necessary organization and attention to task. Challenges must be identified and distinguished with needed supports in place. Three core areas associated with cooking directly relate to individuals with ASD: sensory challenges, fine/gross motor issues, follow of directions. These areas represent difficulties with some or all of these skill-sets: organization, follow of directions, reliance on visual cues/supports, motor challenges, and sensory issues that distract and/or prompt food aversions. Each participant will have a 1:1 social guide to provide needed visual/auditory/tactile cues and adjustments, as needed. The Table for Two© program will focus upon helping participants find their place in independent preparation of healthy meals with maximum safety and organization. Cooking will be emphasized with a social factor, naturally embedding social activity with team leaders and fellow participants.
Upon completion of the Table for Two© Program, participants will successfully prepare a minimum number of dishes/meals based upon their ability levels. Upon examination of dependence on visual supports, participants will successfully organize preparation, arrange foods/preparation items, prepare with cutting, chopping, combining, stirring, whisking, blending, will provide instruction, highlighting the importance of interpretation/follow of directions and safe cooking practices. Individual skill levels will be assessed, and level of instruction will be determined upon specific needs of participant before active practice begins. Individuals will be placed in groups based upon cognitive/communicative capacity to ensure the highest potential for success. Simple dishes will be taught with gradual increases in difficulty for advancement of skills.