There is no rule book for parenting. First time mothers often look on helplessly at their beautiful new born and no matter their academic or career related achievements to date, the same question is asked ‘how do I do this?’
Parenting a child with special needs can multiply these anxiety levels by an infinite amount. All of a sudden you are supposed to be an expert in topics that professors, doctors and therapists study for years in universities before they understand. You need to be bold, know how to fight for things you don’t even know if you need and know the answers to questions you don’t know how to ask.
The learning curve for parenting children with special needs is endless.
The learning curve for parenting children with special needs is endless. Yet sometimes, through this experience, parents are able to find a way, a life line; that fits for their child and others. It took me four years to find it.
I spent countless hours in the waiting rooms of doctors and therapists during my children’s early years. At the age of two my eldest son Henry was diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, six months after his sister Amariah was born with Down’s syndrome.
It became almost impossible to differentiate between the assessments and therapy sessions. The summaries for Henry were always the same; low muscle tone and hyper mobility coupled with poor gross motor skills, delayed development and echolalic speech. I purchased every type of special scissors, pencil grips and block sets on the market to help develop my son’s poor fine motor skills. Nothing made a difference; we transitioned from the early years into primary school with the same problems.
I was angst-ridden the day I allowed Henry to use a kitchen knife.
One cold winter’s day when Henry was four years old, we decided to bake cookies. I purchased supersized cookie cutters to help compensate for clumsy fingers. Yet whilst at work in the kitchen, I was surprised that Henry’s movements were controlled and attentive. His cookie shapes were immaculate.
I barely made any cookies that afternoon, I simply watched Henry with a quizzical brow as he worked. Every evaluation we had received in his four years, had stated clearly that Henry was unable to concentrate for longer than five minutes on any given task. As a tray of freshly baked cookies came out of the oven, I realised that in the kitchen Henry’s concentration and fine motor skills were excellent.
I was angst ridden the day I allowed Henry to use a kitchen knife. After a month of continuously baking cookies I took a giant leap of faith and watched as Henry followed my careful instruction and prepared a salad. There was not a chopped finger in sight! Henry sliced cucumbers, pepper and tomatoes; he was calm and attentive throughout.
Cooking channelled his energy and gave him a wonderful sense of achievement.
It was so exciting to see his elation after preparing the final dish. We ate salad for weeks after that day whether we wanted to or not! It was clear that Henry loved being in the kitchen; it calmed him, channelled his energy and gave him a wonderful sense of achievement.
From that moment on my children’s participation in the kitchen was continuous. There was always either a chair or stepping stool next to me whilst I worked and Henry’s early play dates consisted of pancake frying or cookie cutting. More and more children wanted to be involved and their parents started to ask if their children could learn how to cook too.
I opened my first cookery class in my home for all children when Henry was nine years old, paving the way for the development of my cookery course for children and young adults with special needs. Learning how to cook is an essential life skill that boosts self confidence and develops individuality and creativity in all who try it. Those with special needs are no exception and proficiency in the kitchen will play a key role in their independence as adults.
The Cookbook for Children with Special Needs
The Cookbook for Children with Special Needs has been written by Deborah to help children understand the origins of the food we eat, how the ingredients we use create our diet and how this affects our health and the way that we feel. The opening story introduces the primary theme which is that we are all responsible for the choices we make about the foods that we eat.
The recipes in The Cookbook for Children with Special Needs are not divided into starters, mains and dessert categories found in regular cookbooks. The recipes here are skill-orientated and are divided into 3 levels based on the skill requirements to complete the dish. The recipes introduce adult dishes to children and young adults and whilst the photographs are sophisticated to make the reader feel more grown up, the recipes themselves are child-friendly to enable them to become successful cooks.
This Friday 18th September is Jeans 4 Genes Day, a UK-wide fundraising day which raises money for the care of children and families who are affected by genetic disorders. Find out more at jeansforjeans.org