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TomTag life skill of the month – cooking – Apr 2016

life skill cookingBeing able to create quick and healthy hot meals becomes increasingly important as children get older and need to learn skills for independent or supported living. Following simple recipes provides opportunities to work on reading and listening skills, sequencing, nutrition, hygiene and learning to use kitchen tools.

The key thing to remember is to start with recipes that are simple enough to follow with limited assistance, building up slowly to add in more complex skills over time.

xmas cooking 20132We’ve already looked at preparing some non-cook simple meals for breakfast, snacks and lunches in our Life Skill series November blog using symbols from our Food & Drink Basics pack.

A new extended version of this pack is now available, Food & Drink Extended, which includes 120 symbols in total. With this pack, TomTag can be used to help teach skills for preparing, cooking and serving simple hot meals such as beans on toast, cheese on toast, hot sandwiches and egg recipes.

Cooking skills with TomTag

Here are our tips for using the Extended pack to teach cooking skills with TomTag.

Wash hands widgit imageHygiene

Don’t forget to use the opportunity to teach or reinforce rules about hygiene in the kitchen. We’ve included symbols for washing hands and wearing an apron but you could also use blank stickers to add reminders to wipe worktops or store food in the fridge, or use some of the symbols from our domestic chores Clean & Tidy pack.


pan widgit imagePreparation

Show the images for the utensils and food that will be needed to create the recipe you have chosen and check you have everything listed before you begin.

You might also want to incorporate a shopping trip as part of your preparation to find all the ingredients you will need. Take a TomTag loaded up with a list of ingredients to the shop and use it as your shopping list. For more shopping with TomTag tips, read our Life Skill blog from last month.


oven widgit imageKitchen safety

There are lots of skills required in the kitchen besides dealing with the food itself. Knowing how to turn cookers and ovens on and off correctly, taking appropriate precautions with hot equipment, learning safe use of sharp knifes and other utensils are all essential skills to be learnt before a young person can be left to cook unsupervised.

Build on these skills gradually and move on to the next stage only when the individual is ready and capable of showing the necessary responsibility.


spaghetti widgit imageChoosing recipes

beans on toast recipe tagsStarting with something simple and achievable will boost confidence and increase the changes of the young person being willing to try again next time, possibly with a more advanced recipe.

Using a set of TomTag button holders and the symbols we’ve included in our Extended pack, you can quickly create step-by-step instructions for numerous simple recipes such as beans on toast, soup, sandwiches, eggs (scrambled, fried or boiled), cheese on toast and pasta with sauce.


serve imageServe it up

Be sure to give compliments and praise and encourage them to keep building on their skills. Let them be the first to taste what they’ve made and ask for suggestions of what they’d like to try next.

Serving and sharing meals with others offers opportunities for practising communication and social skills too.


Other resources

Jamie Oliver’s Home Cooking Skills website has a simple and visual layout and many of the recipes even include step-by-step photo illustrations.

Cooking with Autism also have a useful site with easy to follow recipes written in simple language.

 

Symbols in our sticker packs are produced under licence from Widgit Symbols
(c) Widgit Software 2002-2014 www.widgit.com
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TomTag life skill of the month – shopping – March

woman shoppingShopping can be an exhausting experience even without children in tow but we all know that there are times when shopping without them can’t be avoided. There will even be times when we might want to take the kids along to help them learn some important new skills.

A shopping trip can help develop life skills on a number of levels. In the early years, understanding behavioural expectations or learning to deal with different sensory stimuli might be the primary aim. An older child or teenager preparing for independent living might be learning to choose the items they need in a supermarket and how to pay for them.

With our TomTag Tips and the right planning and preparation, there’s no reason why you can’t turn your shopping trip into a productive, educational and dare we say it, maybe even a fun experience!

Be prepared

mar shop

Social stories

Can be used effectively to help children with autism understand why we need to go shopping and what to expect when they get there. Try a Pinterest search to find examples for writing your own shopping social story.

Shopping visual timeline examplesVisual timelines

Create timelines using TomTag to show the different stages of a shopping trip and make sure to talk through them with your child before you go. Knowing what to expect can greatly help to reduce anxiety and stress for a child with autism. The amount of detail needed in your timeline will vary with each child. Use FIRST – THEN prompts in a single tag at the simplest level or link 2 tags together to create a more detailed shopping trip sequence like the ones shown here.

Routine

For some children, the route to the shops might be important to their routine too – try to stick to the same one each time if possible to help prevent them becoming distressed before you even get to the shops! Include the route or what transport you will use in your timeline as well.

Don’t forget to include a visual prompt to define that there will be a point when the shopping trip will finish too (maybe the home symbol, for example) – cue relief all round!

Make a list

mar list

Shopping with a list is a good discipline for anyone to adopt – it can save us time and money as we’re more likely to only buy the things we really need.

You can introduce different skills by involving your child in preparing your shopping list. They can learn to budget and prioritise by only including the items that are needed for a meal or recipe. Perhaps they want something that’s not on the list – maybe offer to add it next time if they are good this time to teach delayed gratification.

Taking a prepared list will also help to keep a child engaged whilst shopping as they search for and check things off their list. They’re learning to be responsible and it helps them to realise they can have a role to play in everyday family tasks.

Educate

mar educate

shopping counting skillsShopping provides a wealth of educational opportunities. Here are just a few examples:

Matching – finding items on the shelf that match the items on their list.

Counting – use a different coloured tag to show how many of each item you need to buy and have them put the right number into the trolley, like this example using apples and oranges.

Calculating – working out the best value choice often involves quite complex calculations, particularly with 3-for-2, half price and BOGOFs (buy one get one free) to compare!

Making healthy choices – reading and understanding food labels is a key starting point to being able to select healthier options.

Sensory considerations

mar sensory

sensory lightsLoud sounds, overwhelming smells and flickering lights can be particularly confusing and frightening for a child with sensory issues. If your child has trouble processing light or noises then provide some sensory ‘armour’ such as sunglasses, ear defenders or a baseball cap to reduce the potential of sensory overload.

Have a signal your child can use to indicate when they are feeling overwhelmed. My son would show us his red TomTag when he’d had enough!

Behaviour

mar behaviourshopping behaviour prompt sAllowing for any sensory issues, explain the expectations for behaviour when going shopping and inside shops. Be prepared that your child may not get it right first time, or every time – be patient, practice and remember to praise them when things do go well.

Prepare a visual prompt and talk through the rules before you go then take the tag with you as a handy reminder should you need it when you’re out and about.

Role play

mar roleplay

Shopping for shoes and clothes with a child with autism can often be particularly difficult and require specific explanation of what to expect before you go.

Try role playing the shopping experience at home first. For example, if you need to shop for shoes you’ll most likely need to get their feet measured as well. Practice having your child let you take off their shoes and touch their feet as the assistant in the shop might do. This will help you know what triggers any specific reaction and then prepare for how to deal with it.

John Lewis have recently introduced an autism-friendly shoe fitting service in some of their stores. Do you know of any other local or national shops offering this kind of service to autism families that you’d like to recommend?

Resources

For a more detailed look at strategies to help children with autism cope with shopping trips see this great resource from the National Autistic Society.

  • cover image sticker pack at the shops

    At the shops

  • cover image sticker pack food drink basics

    Food & drink basics

  • cover image sticker pack food and drink extended

    Food & drink extended

  • cover image download going shopping

    Going shopping

  • product cover help at shops

    I can do it – help at the shops

  • I can do it – independent living

  • cover image what to expect going shopping

    I know what to expect going shopping

  • cover image sticker pack my shopping list

    My shopping list

  • cover image sticker pack out & about

    Out & about

  • cover image sticker pack shopping for clothes and shoes

    Shopping for clothes & shoes

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TomTag life skill of the month – simple meals – Nov 2015

nov carrotsInvolving children in meal choices and preparation can help to improve their eating habits and establish a healthy relationship with food. They’re also learning important life skills vital for future independence.

Food preferences and eating habits often develop early in life. Helping to prepare their own meals can encourage an interest in healthier foods or persuade picky eaters to try or experiment with new or previously refused foods. It can also provide a wonderful hands-on, multi-sensory experience.

nov coffee sandwichLearning to make a hot drink or sandwich would also be a great starting point when developing independent life skills with older children or young adults with autism.

Our newest sticker pack – Food and Drink Basics – includes symbols related to preparing and serving hot drinks, breakfast, snacks and simple lunches.

You could use them with TomTag to:-

  • Create step-by-step instructions for making breakfast, snacks, simple lunches and hot drinks.
  • List the food choices available to your child for breakfast, lunch and snacks.
  • List each family member’s food preference as a reminder to those preparing the food.

Whichever way you choose, here’s a few simple tips to follow.

nov cutThe right task

Choose tasks that are appropriate to your child’s developmental level. Starter tasks might include washing fruit, cutting soft vegetables with plastic knives or spreading butter on toast.

Move on later to more complex tasks requiring greater motor skills, concentration and focus such as using a peeler, chopping with sharper knives or boiling a kettle.


nov snackTalking points

Having children help in the kitchen provides a natural opportunity for education on a number of topics.

Teaching children to wash their hands and kitchen surfaces before preparing food or showing them safe ways to use knives helps them to understand the importance of kitchen safety and hygiene.

Practice reading and maths skills by comparing packet labels and counting or measuring out ingredients.

Talk about the effects our choice of food has on our health and lifestyle. Try out the NHS Change4Life Sugar Swaps app for a fun way to find out how much sugar is in our food and drinks.


nov fruit saladFoodie fun

Fun with pumpkins!

If children associate food with enjoyable experiences, they’re more likely to be receptive to trying new foods and eating healthily. Fun meal preparation activities can be particularly helpful if you have a child with sensory issues around food.

Cookie cutters are brilliant for turning boring sandwiches into enticing nibbles. A selection of different coloured fruits or vegetables look great laid out to make a rainbow. Our old favourite Pinterest is a fantastic source of fun food ideas for kids.

If you’ve got anything left over from halloween you could always take some inspiration from this pumpkin horse!


nov wash upLet it go!

Be sure to give compliments and praise and encourage them to keep building on their skills. Let them be the first to taste what they’ve made and ask for suggestions of what they’d like to try next.

Having kids help out often means a bit more mess to clear up afterwards. Try to be patient and allow for a little extra mess whilst they’re still learning. Check back to October’s Life Skill tips and you might even get them to help out with the clearing up too!


 Other helpful resources

Various april-June 2009 054Get free visual recipe sheets for tasty treats and snacks from The Autism helper.

Try The Eating Game from Canada if you’re looking for a more comprehensive visual food planning tool.

Cheeriosmilkandspoon is Sarah’s personal blog account of parenting a child with food aversions and eating challenges.

 

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TomTag life skill of the month – household chores – Oct 2015

We often find that it’s quicker and easier to do household chores ourselves but getting kids involved when they’re young (and eager!) will set them up well for later life.

LIFE SKILL octoberChildren learn how to look after themselves and their home and become familiar with concepts such as teamwork and the discipline of routine. Sharing out the housework has the added bonus that it saves you time and stress too.

With the latest addition to our sticker range – Clean & Tidy – TomTag is now an ideal tool for helping children understand and learn about domestic chores. Here’s some ideas of how you might use it:-

  • Use a set of tags to give step-by-step instructions for cleaning different rooms in the house.
  • Label a tag with the name of each child and list the chores they need to complete that day/week.
  • List the jobs you want completing on separate tags and let each child pick a tag out of a hat to find out what their task is.

Start them young

Building good habits from an early age always makes things easier in the long run. Children as young as 2 years old can pick up their own toys, put dirty clothes in a washing basket and wield a duster.

 

 


Make it fun

Turning tasks into a game always makes things more fun. Turn the radio up and dance while hoovering, shout out colour names when sorting laundry or let kids compete to be the first to tidy their room (to your standard!).


The right chores

This will naturally depend on your child’s age and developmental level. You’ll find plenty of guides online but you’re the best judge of what your child’s ready for. Build up gradually to the more difficult tasks so they don’t get frustrated if they can’t complete the task independently. Our Pinterest Household Chores board has lots of ideas for age-appropriate chores.

 


A family affair

Set a good example by making sure that everyone helps out – in an age-appropriate way. If you child is old enough, involve them in a family discussion to decide who should do what around the house. Offer options so that children can choose the jobs they prefer. If no-one wants to do a particular task (such as cleaning the toilet!), use a rota system so that everyone takes a turn.

 


Praise and encouragement

Don’t expect perfection, especially at first or if they are very young. Praise those things they did well and they’ll feel proud of what they got right and motivated to do the job again next time. Tell them how much it helped you and they’ll feel they are making an important contribution to the family.

 


Reward

This will depend on your own family values and views but if you want to add an extra incentive, chores can be linked to giving pocket money or earning other treats. Use a blank sticker to add a £ button to each chore checklist, like this one for helping out at mealtimes and doing the dishes.

mealtime chore photo

 

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Baking with children

grand day gromit
When was the last time you enjoyed a family baking session? 1st-7th December 2014 is Wallace & Gromit’s Big Bake week so it seemed like a good excuse to talk about the benefits of baking with children.

As well as a chance to spend some quality time together and enjoy a sense of shared achievement, baking with children can help to build their self confidence and has numerous additional benefits.

Maths and science

Counting and measuring ingredients puts maths skills to use in a meaningful and practical way. Get a real hands-on science experience by making observations and predicting change.

measuring

Reading & sequencing

Practice reading skills, learn new vocabulary and don’t forget to follow the steps of the recipe in the correct order!

Listening & speaking

Talk about what utensils and ingredients you need to prepare before you begin.

Discuss what might happen if you missed out an ingredient or step of the recipe.

Involve the child in making choices about decoration or variations.

speaking

Full sensory experience

Children use their senses to learn more about the world around them.

Touch – feel the difference in textures of ingredients

Sight – does it looked baked yet?

Hearing – listening and discussing

Smell – there’ll hopefully be some wonderful aromas to enjoy

Taste – enjoy the fruits of your labour and appreciate that wonderful home-baked flavour!

Fine motor practice

Rubbing a mixture into breadcrumbs or using cookie cutters can develop the strength children need in their fingers to help with writing skills and self care issues.

Let’s get messy!

I often use baking to engage with my autistic son.

His current interest is Eddie Stobart lorries so a lorry cookie cutter and green food colouring were all we needed to turn our favourite cookie dough into the iconic lorries!

Eddie Biscuits

On other occasions I’ve used his obsession with numbers to encourage him to get involved in making number-shaped biscuits.

Need some inspiration?

There are so many free recipes and resources on the web these days – check out Jamie Oliver and Baking Mad for some of our favourites.

And finally……

Remember to praise them for their culinary achievements and don’t forget to encourage them to help you wash up afterwards!