Life skills series: Part one cooking with your special needs child

Nov 14, 2017

At Social Living Solutions, we are all about helping your child meet his or her potential.  Coming up over the next few months is a series of helpful blogs centred around life skills that will help your child to flourish.  Today I am going to talk about the essential life skill of cooking.

Love it or loathe it, cooking is a necessary life skill to survive.  Apart from it’s obvious necessity, let’s look at the benefits of cooking for our special needs children; and the skills and benefits it can provide them with.

Using the example of a simple task such as baking a batch of biscuits, I will demonstrate how we can teach and provide children with many life skills.

When you have jointly decided which recipe to make, assist the child to check through the pantry and the fridge to determine which ingredients they already have in the home, and which ingredients need to be purchased from the supermarket.  The next step would be to construct a shopping list together.

This simple straight forward task assists with executive functioning as it requires planning and forward thinking.  It also assists with working memory, as the child is using their immediate conscious and perceptual memory and linguistic processing.

Then plan two things in collaboration with the child: plan when would be a good day and time to bake or cook the recipe, depending, if it is a family meal or a baked item.  Also plan what would be a good day and time to go to the supermarket to purchase the missing items.

The next step is the trip to the supermarket.  I ask the parent/carer to be available at the supermarket but not to find the required items for the child.  Instead, I ask them to assist the child in negotiating to find their way around the supermarket and locating the required items.

This again assists with executive functioning, and working memory but also helps with slow processing, growing self-esteem, confidence and independence.  After several visits like this to the supermarket, the child will eventually be able to negotiate the supermarket independently and confidently.

Another step in this process is to teach the child to examine the price of the items and ascertain which item by weight, volume and price is the best value for money.  Here we are teaching them the value of money and to consider the parameters of working within a budget.  We are also incorporating math principles in this exercise.  Again, we are using executive functioning, working memory and processing speed as they are having to plan the best value for money, and think about working within a budget.

I ensure that the parent/carer provides the child with cash to purchase the items as I want them to understand the value of money as well as the concept of change. I encourage the parent/carer to assist the child in working out what the amount of change will be, prior to receiving it.

This transaction also is an excellent opportunity to teach the child the social skills involved in having to interact with a complete stranger whilst purchasing the items.

Following on from this experience the child then cooks or bakes the recipe.  Whilst cooking or baking, a variety of life and math skills are addressed.  The child may have to weigh out or measure ingredients.  They may have to use their fine and gross motor skills to cut items up and mix them together.  They will also have to utilise their fine motor skills when stirring ingredients in a pot or cake mixer.  This is also fantastic opportunity to teach them the considerations around using a hot stove or a hot oven.

Naturally, they are also learning the valuable life skill of cooking.  When they have completed cooking, or baking the item they will feel a real sense of accomplishment.  They have been able to successfully produce the dish and/or baked goods.  This will enhance their self-confidence and belief in their own abilities and belief that they can accomplish new and complex tasks.

In conclusion, the life skill of cooking has wonderful benefits, and helps develop important skills for your special needs child that most of us take for granted – planning and preparing a meal.  If you would like more information about how I can assist and support your family, with this life skill or any other issues then please email me at