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How I’m Using Cooking to Outwit Autism

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Those of you who have seen the CHASE ‘N YUR FACE website, CHASE’S COOKING SHOW, and the food adventures that we’ve shared on Facebook and Twitter, will find it hard to believe that Chase struggled with food aversions for the first few years of his life.

It’s extremely common for those diagnosed with Autism to have food aversions. What isn’t common, is for someone like Chase to go from eating a personal menu of only 5 foods (literally!), to being a genuine “foodie”.

We’re now talking about a kid who lists braised rabbit as one of his favorite foods, and wants to go to New Orleans to try fried alligator! How, why, and when did this happen, you ask? Well, the nuances of how and why, we’ll probably never know for sure.

Every parent who, like myself, has agonized over their child’s wellbeing, health, nutrition, and eating habits, has probably said countless prayers and tried every trick in the book to help their child overcome that food aversion beast – and with varied results.

In Chase’s case, about 5 years ago, my own efforts, Chase’s “wiring”, and his discovery of the TV food channels, all converged with those unknown “how and why” variables – and the miraculous result is the child you see today. Life does have a sense of humor though – even with his enthusiasm and adventure for food, Chase still has a couple of aversions that linger with him, like egg dishes, raw tomatoes, and hot dogs.

Why is he happy eating braised rabbit, beef tongue, and sushi, but won’t go near scrambled eggs, or a good old-fashioned ballpark hotdog; and never puts tomatoes on his own garden salads? Who knows…maybe he’ll grow out of these aversions too, or maybe they will remain just to remind the rest of us that Chase is unique.

But all wondering aside, Chase’s passion for the culinary world has become a focal point in our lives. Food is not just a source of nutrition or a ritual of meals. Chase’s discovery of cooking shows, provided for him a reference point, and a venue through which he could connect with and enjoy others and the world around him – a way to build relationships and open doors to meaningful experiences.

It also provided me with the foundation on which to build his homeschool curriculum. The culinary arts engage all of his senses, and ignites the enthusiasm necessary to make learning happen for Chase. In the LIFE CURRICULUM that I have created for Chase, the various subjects – Math, Science, History, Social Studies, Communication Skills (speech, grammar, vocabulary, and writing), etc. – are woven together with food themes. The quarter themes for this first homeschooling year of the LIFE CURRICULUM are called “Colonial Cuisine”, “Fusion Cuisine”, “Dining Royally”, and “Soul Food”. To learn more about the LIFE CURRICULM, and see some of the materials, activities, and field trips used to help Chase learn, go to www.chasenyurface.com.

In my first blog post for OC Mom, I shared that PVL (periventricular leukomalacia) is among Chase’s diagnoses. One of the areas that this condition affects is Chase’s small motor skills. Cooking is an excellent way for Chase to practice strengthening his small motor skills. Things that most of us take for granted – cutting, handling utensils and appliances, carrying heavy and awkward pots, etc. – can be a challenge for Chase, and for him to be able to manage his condition in the kitchen is a triumph. Continued practice, and testing and selecting kitchen products that are best suited to his needs, are all a part of the process. Memory and multi-tasking are challenges for Chase as well, and once again, cooking has proven to be an outstanding arena for him to practice both. Prepping the kitchen space, gathering ingredients, following recipes, keeping track of materials and time, and the clean-up process, all present challenges and create opportunities to build strength in his abilities. Add all of that to the skills required of him to do his shows (memorizing lines and gestures, taking direction, being mindful of the camera, etc.), and you can begin to appreciate what a determined, optimistic visionary Chase is. To further understand Chase’s diagnoses, and how the LIFE CURRICULUM and CHASE’S COOKING SHOW are enriching his life, check out the MARY’S BLOG posts on the CHASE ‘N YUR FACE website.

My purpose in sharing about the roles food and cooking play in Chase’s life, is to encourage parents to seek out their own children’s particular passions, and explore ways in which those passions can be used to help children learn life skills; become well-rounded individuals; and good citizens. Identifying children’s interests and employing those interests to engage them in the learning process, can make learning more fun, and the lessons learned more memorable.

Together with her teenage son Chase, Mary Bailey is the co-creator of Chase ‘N Yur Face, a free online resource designed to inspire children and families to celebrate life—from the simple to the spectacular. In 2014, Mary made the decision to step down from her corporate job in order to home school her son who, as a toddler, was diagnosed with autism. Today, the single mom and entrepreneur creates her son’s curriculum which revolves around his love of cooking. Through this journey, her goal is to help Chase become a self-sufficient adult, as well as to establish a foundation for people like Chase, who need a helping hand to make their dreams achievable.
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