Why Learn to Cook?

Cooking can be a fun way to learn different functional, language and literacy skills.

As a parent of both a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder , “ASD” and a typical developing child, I was always looking for ways for my two children to do activities together. To keep the interest of my ASD child, the activity would have to be motivational. Moreover, I wanted it to be an activity where he would have a learning opportunity and apply all the wonderful skills he had mastered in the Assessment of Basic Language and Literacy Skills Revised, “ABLLS-R” authored by expert psychologist Dr. James Partington.

My son with Autism has had Applied Behaviour Analysis and Intensive Behavioural Intervention , “ABA/IBI” therapy for seven years. I was fortunate enough to have spent three months at Dr. Partington’s clinic in California. I transitioned him from centre based programming to a school environment with a shadow where he was integrated with typical children. It was the best thing I ever did! In hindsight, I wished I had done it earlier. The move was difficult, as I was afraid to move away from ABA/IBI therapy and, the centre always made me feel as if he did not have the required skills to go out in the real world.

As a result of all the amazing programming, he has gained many amazing skills, however, unlike typical children; he had trouble making vague connections that he was taught by Dr. Partington and apply them to his everyday life. The purpose of the Step by Step Visual Recipes attempts to make some of these connections by simply combining multiple targets together in a meaningful, functional and motivational manner while targeting an essential life skill by breaking it down in easy to understand step by step instructions. It can be used in the home with a parent, sibling or caregiver, part of a center based ABA/IBI program, cooking classes, a functional skills program or just as a leisure activity.

 Who Can Use The Recipes?

The recipes and programs can be used by anyone.There is no limit to who can use the website and for what purpose. However, the recipes and programs cannot be republished, the layouts copied, or sold. The idea is that education should be free.

  1. Visual Learners
  2. Those who want to learn cooking
  3. Preschoolers to Adult
  4. Learners with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other Developmental Disabilities
  5. Alzheimer and/or Aging Patients
  6. A collection of recipes for the teenager going away to University
  7. Teachers in the Public School System who want to create a Cooking Program or Functional Skills Program.

As my journey continued, shortly thereafter I met Dr. Wendy Roberts. She has been an integral part of this project. Her advice and knowledge has been invaluable. She is a Developmental Paediatrician and the Director of Isand. She is an amazing and dedicated person to further research in Autism. I am very happy to be working on a pilot study of the visual recipes and visual modelling videos with her and her expert team. Empowered by the ABLLS-R, Assessment of Functional Living Skills, (AFLS) , ABA Principles, Natural Environment Teaching, School Curriculum and, my own ideas, I looked at how time that is spent doing everyday activities can be used to apply targets from the ABLS and AFLS. I developed some programs from these and some are my own ideas.

The attempt is not to rewrite what has already been written and researched by some of the best in the field , but to provide the tools necessary to carry out some of these functions. The attempt is to save valuable time and money to a parent , a teacher, or anyone in the industry by providing the materials to carry out some of these activities. Time and resources saved, means more time for oneself, family and, resources for the learner who requires additional help, attention and learning opportunities.

Recipes Can Be Used By Anyone

My typically developing son, has learned essential organizational and cooking skills from this program. His friends are now requesting recipes to make delicious recipes at home. The recipes are written in an easy to follow format geared to all ages and skill levels. Organizational skills and related AFFL targets are categorized and embedded within the recipes. These skills are important even for all types of learners. I can’t tell you how many parents said to me, my typically developing child doesn’t have all these skills. Thus, this creates a learning opportunity for the entire family. Recipes begin with step by step instructions to wash hands and set the table. In the skills section, is a print out of how to clean up after a recipe, load a dishwasher ,broom and mop the floor, to name a few. All of these can be embedded as part of the program when learning a visual recipe. Eating is necessary for survival and , in most homes, cooking is a everyday routine. Natural Environment Teaching suggests using times that are a part of a households normal routine that can be used for natural learning opportunities which include the whole family or a member of a family.

It won’t take long before the learner discovers cooking is fun.

If there is a particular recipe your learner or your family would enjoy making, please email us with the recipe and we would be happy to photograph it and post it.

We are not in the business of creating recipes, thus, recipe donations would be greatly appreciated. Also, if you would like to donate your time to helping us photograph, video tape, edit and put in layouts we would love to hear from you.


How To Use The Recipes?

Recipes can be found in the traditional categories of breakfast, lunch and dinner.The advanced search allows for recipes to be sorted by no cook, microwave, toaster oven, blender, slow cooker, stove top and oven. This allows for the learner to progress through the levels or concentrate on learning the skill of using a specific appliance by concentrating only on those recipes. We are beginning to create recipes in different reading levels. This allows for the entire family to participate and creates curriculum for inclusion learning. Learning or teaching to cook does not have to be a frightening experience or just another functional skill to be learned. With the right amount of organization, planning and visual tools it can be a fun shared activity that is simple and exciting to learn. Taking into account, the many complex issues that are associated with sensory issues, dietary restrictions and , varying abilities , the recipes have been selected and photographed using the Picture2Learn Method (P2LM) to ensure everyone is Able2Learn. Let us take the anxiety out of teaching and learning. Breath easy and enjoy the journey.

How can a missing items program be used to create a grocery list?

Thus, programs are written with this thought in mind , that a parent can run some of these programs during many of their regular household routines. I cannot afford ABA/IBI therapy. Look no further, we are attempting to provide you with these tools too. Everyone has a right to free, good quality education , and, everyone deserves an opportunity to learn to their best potential.

Colour coded templates are provided, to make the implementation of these programs easier for the caregiver. Flashcards can be downloaded from the flashcard section to save time and money of actually going out and taking pictures, or searching for them on the internet and then printing them out. The measuring cups are colour coded to visually aid the non-reader, or any learner that requires a visual aid to help complete the visual recipe.


There are many recipes that are single servings to keep the level of difficulty at a minimum.The learner gains knowledge about food, utensils found in the kitchen, following simple directions, organization, clean up, measurement, simple menu planning, how to make a bag lunch, grocery shopping, creating a grocery list, basic safety and nutrition. In addition to learning these necessary skills, the recipes create further learning opportunities in the areas of speech and language, occupational therapy and social skills. The background of the recipes are colour coded according to traditional meals. Parents can create cookbooks for their child organizing recipes by background colour to represent what time of the day they are to be prepared. There are recipes that would traditionally not be found on an internet site. For example, how to make a juice concentrate or, a simple sandwich or canned soup. These recipes can be important for some who require to learn extremely simple recipes or for others who can use a simple recipe to concentrate on learning a different goal. For example, the goal maybe to use a microwave or learn how to open a tin can. There are multiple modalities, for the same skill to give the learner many opportunities to learn the same skill without getting bored.


Food has a multitude of meanings and uses:

  1. It is essential for survival
  2. It provides the necessary nutrition for the healthy functioning of our bodies.
  3. It assists in healing the body
  4. It is often used as a reward for good behaviour
  5. It can be soothing and nurturing
  6. It provides a beautiful setting for social gatherings
  7. It is the nucleus of a family

Food sensitivities, dietary restrictions and life threatening allergies are all important aspects of food that can have serious consequences. It is equally important to consider all of these issues when preparing recipes and, setting individual objectives and goals. However, the pursuance of learning in all its different aspects should never be compromised. Thus, there are many recipes that are gluten free and casein free. By making careful substitutions to recipes, the learner can avoid an allergic reaction.


Familiarity Taste and Texture

Recipes were carefully selected to repeat ingredients to encourage development of taste and to visually show the learner how to use the same ingredient in various different recipes.

If the learner likes chocolate spread, food can be presented in similar ways. For example, chocolate spread is repeated in crepes, pound cake, overnight oats, bagels and sandwiches. Yogurt is repeated in oatmeal, flavoured yogurt and Caesar salad dressing. Yogurt is repeated in oatmeal, flavoured yogurt and Caesar Salad Dressing. A learner may require to taste a food or ingredient 10-15 times before developing a liking for it. Every time the learner is visually exposed to the food, the learner becomes more familiar with it increasing the chances of trying a new food.

Autism Wisdom offers a wide variety of recipes with different tastes, textures and smells catering to the most pickiest eater.Variations encourage trying new foods with favorite ingredients. Blank recipe pages allow the learner to develop their own taste and create a recipe. Most main recipes are simple taking into account aversion to textures. Variations offer different textures and smells. Introducing new items, textures and smell should be done slowly, it should be fun and most of all encouraging.


The experience of cooking, eating and tasting new foods should always be a positive experience.Programs and goals that are implemented should not be overly pressurizing and a cause for anxiety. Food programs can include the tasting of food alongside favorite foods with simple goals as taking one bite or just touching and feeling the texture. Rewards and praise can be used to encourage the learner. With the right mix of encouragement, selection of recipes, individual food goals, the food repertoire can be increased and the experience wonderfully positive.


Give the learner a choice of foods.This helps with creating healthy eating habits and building new foods into the repertoire. The weekly menu planner is a great tool. For the breakfast planner, the learner can be given a choice of five foods to place on the planner. One of those choices can be a new food or a new food that contains a familiar ingredient or texture. Under the label, “with “ in the planner , the learner can be given options of healthy drinks, fruits or sides.

The food group curriculum helps the learner learn about healthy and unhealthy food choices. The more familiar the learner becomes with a food, the more likely the learner will try new foods. Don’t be discouraged if the learner does not try the food the first time it is presented. It may take several attempts.


Recipes develop essential skills and pertinent knowledge of the kitchen necessary for independence.Skills are repeated in various contexts to ensure the learner has opportunity to learn within a variety of different opportunities. For example, the skill for spreading is taught in the recipe, bagel and cream cheese and its variations, as well as, peanut butter and jelly and its variations. Recipes are carefully selected many times embedding more than one skill at a time. The learner learns spreading can be done in different situations while not getting bored of doing the same recipe or task over and over again which may cause unnecessary boredom, anxiety and stress.

Preparing The Food

A growing body of research is supporting the relationship between food preparation, cooking skills and food choices of children and adolescents.By being involved in the planning process a learner is more likely to try a new food. Autism Wisdom involves learners in the planning process from the beginning to the end result: creating a grocery list, going to the grocery store to shop for ingredients, learning how to put away ingredients, following a recipe and cleaning up. Simple, recipes are an excellent way for learners to develop healthy eating habits and tastes for new foods.

Contributing To The Family

During the testing of the recipes, learners were quite proud of what they had accomplished.The feeling of achievement can be a satisfying reward. Programs can be developed where the learner prepares food for caregivers, members of families or friends. This serves as a great opportunity to learn about sharing, making food for others, and being a contributing member of the family. As the learner watches family members enjoying the food, they may be tempted to try it. An opportunity arises to learn in the natural environment.

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Food and Family

Research shows there are many positive social outcomes to eating a meal together with the family.Meals are more likely to be more nutritious where healthy eating habits are developed. Family members are more likely to engage in social conversation and bond together. Depending on the individual a social skills program can be implemented at meal time.

Personal Experience

My own son, Niam, only ate a handful of foods. I even created a blog post about it. Needless to say my friends were surprised and the number of phone calls and suggestions to increase Niam's repetoire of foods. All advice was taken with a grain of salt, reminding myself the intentions are good. As an Autism Parent taste sensitivities is not easy to overcome. 


I started creating the visual recipes 5 years ago. My staff, young innocent students, would hand over food to Niam to try. He would gag by either taste or smell. The girls were determined. They had him help them prepare food, touch it , smell it , encouraged him to taste it, and , one day, two years later, yes it took two years, he ate food, and he started trying food. I documented it. It can be viewed on Niam's Journey in the video section.  Today he eats, everything including most salads and spinach soup.  

I hope you have the same successes I have experienced.
With love from our family to yours,