Autism & Cooking Towards Independence

Independence in Early Years

Cooking doesn't only feed your belly . It can also nourish your mind, self-perception, and life.

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As more services aim to support youth with autism in individual independence, more adults with autism are living independently. This is so important and an amazing achievement, opportunity, and right for this community! As we grow and perfect this transition it is important we are mindful of where we can improve to best support success in the path of childhood to adulthood. 


Why Cooking?

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Many articles explain the earlier children begin cooking, the better opportunity they have for a healthy adult life. The path to health and independence looks differently for everyone and cooking can have wonderful, positive effects even if complete independence in cooking is not attainable at this time. Benefits of cooking early on are vast, but I've chosen to dive into seven key areas for youth with autism. They are as follows:

A Sensory Experience

“Children, especially very young children, rely on their senses to explore the world. Cooking offers kids opportunities to use the senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Working with food lets a child focus on his senses individually as well as collectively. Cooking teaches a child how to use his eyes, ears, nose, skin and tongue to observe. In addition, kids can improve their fine motor skills when helping out in the kitchen.” - Live Strong

Planting Seeds for Confidence and Autonomy 

One study showed, after implementing and documenting their cooking program, “ Overall, completion of the intervention significantly increased participant’s confidence in their cooking ability, as well as increased the number of times per week that the participants cooked for themselves.” (Proquest)Whether you are preparing all meals for yourself daily or occasionally a level of independence is kept intact.

Can Improve Nutrition 

Exploring new foods (even if it’s just smelling them to start!) can support picky eaters in trying new things. And, for the most resistant eaters, cooking alternative foods can teach other options in making some of their favorite meals.

May Supports Skills in Adaptability

Not all recipes turn out the way we intended, sometimes we spill the entire bag of flour, and sometimes our dog runs off with the finished product… Can’t we all use some practice in adaptability? Cooking allows us to engage in valuable learning experiences.

Safety Skills and Body Awareness

A great deal of safety is involved in cooking. Certain levels of knife, stove, and oven safety are important not only as we progress in cooking skills, but also as we progress towards independence. Safety skills and body awareness go together when cooking. While we're manipulating cooking utensils (stirring, transferring items between spaces, chopping, etc.) we must be aware of hand and body placement, where others are in relation to us, and how close we are to hot surfaces.

Discovering new interests, hobbies, and/or skills

By learning a new skill or engaging in it differently, some youth may find they enjoy cooking or aspects of cooking, and can also find they are really good at it!

Math Skills

Cooking is an excellent way to learn and strengthen fractions, adding, subtracting, and multiplying skills.


Professions Using Cooking as a Therapeutic Modality

Occupational Therapists use cooking for: 

  • Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
  • Motor Control
  • And More

Behavioral Therapists use cooking for:

  • Social Skills
  • Math

Speech Language Pathologists use cooking for: 

  • Language and communication skills

Recreation Therapists use cooking for: 

  • Individual goals of the client or specific goals of the group
  • Independence
  • Other uses overlap with other professions

Special Educators use cooking for: 

  • Social Skills
  • Communication
  • Math
  • And More

Each profession's intentions, as well as the seven benefits of cooking listed above, demonstrate life skills that can be brought about by this one amazing modality.

Cooking doesn't only feed your belly . It can also nourish your mind, self-perception, and life.


Autism and Cooking Towards Independence

Whatever a client's path may look like, independence on any level is always the goal. Let's support youth with autism in cooking towards their independence.


Notes & Resources to get started

Food Allergies and Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities play a major role in behavior, mood, cognition, and health. It is vital that you check and have parents/caregivers have their loved one have a food allergy test (blood tests are best!) prior to engaging in a cooking program.

Resources to Promote High Quality Cooking Programs

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  1. Healthfully Independent: We supply materials and resources, supporting helping professionals and family members to implement healthy cooking programs. Memberships, products, and more information are coming soon!
  2. VeggieWize: Owned by our co-founder, Veronica! Visit her site for meal plans, tips, and printables! It will not disappoint. 
  3. Chris Kresser: "Chris teaches and practices functional medicine, a personalized approach to health care that recognizes the biological uniqueness of each patient. In contrast to conventional care, which is almost entirely focused on suppressing symptoms, functional medicine eliminates symptoms by addressing the underlying cause of a problem. It is an evidence-based field of health care that views the body as an interconnected whole, and recognizes the importance of these connections in health and disease" - chriskresser.com.
Christine Devereaux