Nov 06, 2013 0 Share

Cooking with Autism


Close-up of man making mashed potatoes.
Thinkstock

My autism greatly affects the way I perceive the world and interact with it. Simple tasks such as climbing up and down stairs, navigating crowded places, or even tying my shoes can be considerably challenging. My parents and I are always trying to learn new ways for me to more easily carry out these tasks. We also continually work on adding new skills to my repertoire. One such activity is cooking, and it is much more involved than a lot of the other tasks I do daily.

I am able to independently prepare some foods for my breakfast and lunch and have made these foods for myself for many years because they are simple recipes with few steps and do not involve utensils or equipment more complicated than butter knives and toasters. I know their ingredients and compositions by heart. For many years, these foods were among the very few that I ate daily. 

I am very sensitive to the textures and tastes of certain foods and when I was younger, I would have extremely negative reactions to these tastes and textures when I tried new foods. I would gag and, at times, vomit as I attempted to eat. Even the thought of certain foods could drive me over the edge. As I have gotten older and my tolerance has increased, my diet has greatly expanded. As a result, I have added many more foods and much-needed nutrients into my life. I am pleased with the progress I have made with my diet, but I am always working to expand it even more.

Now, with my mother’s help, I am starting to learn how to prepare my own dinners. I have worked with my mother on learning the art of cooking in the past, but these new meals that I will be tackling will be more difficult for me to do because they contain many more steps than I am used to and many utensils and pots and pans that I am not familiar with. I also have fine motor issues that make it difficult for me to actually hold and maneuver utensils. In an effort to help make it easier for me, my mother has purchased a whole cabinet’s worth of specialized utensils and instruments for me to use. I even have my own utensil holder on the kitchen counter, full of new and exciting gadgets just for me.

One dinner meal that I really enjoy is tuna salad sandwiches. I have eaten them for years, but my parents have always made them for me. Recently, with my mother supervising, I made one for myself. My mother taught me how to use and hold each tool as I completed the steps for my sandwich. I enjoyed putting the sandwich together and figuring out how everything worked. Again, my fine motor issues did make a few steps a little more difficult for me. I had trouble applying pressure with my hands to my new can opener as I opened the tuna can, squeezing the can to get the excess water out, and spreading the tuna salad onto the bread with my new butter knife—but I did accomplish my goal and completed my sandwich. It tasted great!   

My mother also helped me make my own pancakes. I followed a classic recipe which resulted in some great, fulfilling flapjacks. The recipe had a few more steps than my tuna salad sandwich, so I was glad that I was able to follow and complete it with no major problems. I was able to try out more of my special tools including a whisk, liquid and dry measuring cups, a spatula, and a placemat which kept the mixing bowl in place as I stirred the batter. They were tremendously helpful. My mother also showed me how to turn the stove on and off, regulate the stove’s flame, and reviewed safety rules with me.

My new cooking abilities are still developing and I have many more meals that I need to learn, but I am glad that my repertoire is growing. My new tools are very well-made and an enormous help, and I am excited to try them all out. Cooking is a skill that has challenged me for many years, but now, with my new equipment and my mom’s help, I am ready to take it on. Step by step, I will follow a recipe for success.