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Cooking With Asperger's

Updated on January 2, 2015

Food Strategies For Autism Spectrum Disorders

For most people, cooking is an everyday task -- enjoyable at best, tedious at worst. For people with Asperger's syndrome, PDD-NOS and other autism spectrum disorders, it can be fraught with horrors. Slimy textures, weird smells, high temperatures, clanging noises -- a busy kitchen can be a nightmare if you're on the spectrum. Just cooking your own meals becomes too intimidating to handle.

Fortunately, there are ways to make it easier. Here you'll find a few foolproof recipes for Asperger cooks, plus tips on cooking and planning strategies, and some useful tools to have around the kitchen.

Warning
Warning

What This Page Is Not

Before going further, I'd like to clarify two things:

This is not a diet page. It is not focused on low-fat, low-carb, or low anything else foods. It's a guide for autistic and Aspie people who have trouble feeding themselves without resorting to fast food or frozen dinners. Look at it this way: everything suggested here is healthier than McDonald's.

This is not about "treating autism". Some people believe that certain foods can "cure" or mitigate autism spectrum disorders. I'm more interested in learning to manage my disorder and becoming more independent.

So if you're looking for information on either of those subjects, you should look elsewhere. If, however, you want advice for autistic people learning to cook homemade meals, keep reading.

(This is also not about how to cook asparagus. It pays to check your spelling!)

Dealing With Asperger's In The Kitchen

Probably the two biggest problems for people with AS when trying to cook are sensory issues and processing issues.

Many people with autism spectrum disorders are hypersensitive to sensory input -- ordinary noises sound deafening, smells are overwhelming, and unfamiliar textures make us sick. There are a number of ways to cope with this, from using tools that cut down on contact with icky foods to ensuring a quiet environment while cooking.

The other problem has to do with the way Aspies process information. Again, there are strategies to deal with this, such as having clear, precise instructions, and minimizing the number of things we have to do at one time.

I'll start with a few useful tools that mostly help with the sensory side.

The Aspie's Kitchen Tools

SafeTouch Nitrile Exam Gloves, Non Latex, Powder Free, Small, 100/Box
SafeTouch Nitrile Exam Gloves, Non Latex, Powder Free, Small, 100/Box

My #1 lifesaver in the kitchen. These babies make handling slimy things like meat and eggs much, much easier.

 
Oven Rack Push Puller
Oven Rack Push Puller

Reaching into a hot oven can feel intimidating to Aspies. With this nifty tool, you won't have to.

 
Prepworks by Progressive Stainless Steel Locking Tongs - 12 Inch
Prepworks by Progressive Stainless Steel Locking Tongs - 12 Inch

Another great strategy for maneuvering raw meat, these tongs won't slip, even if your concentration does.

 
Furi Rachael Ray Gusto Grip Basics 3-Knife Set
Furi Rachael Ray Gusto Grip Basics 3-Knife Set

My brother's #1 tool is a good sharp knife -- "no matter how gross the thing you're trying to cut is, it will all be over soon!"

 
Wüsthof 2-Stage Knife Sharpener
Wüsthof 2-Stage Knife Sharpener

And, of course, you have to make sure your sharp knife STAYS sharp. This knife sharpener is simple to use and gets good reviews.

 

TIP:

Wear shoes while cooking to avoid spilling things on your bare feet, or stepping in puddles.

Aspergers Recipe: Plain White Rice

White rice is about the most inoffensive food in existence. It goes well with all kinds of things. Rice with gravy is my go-to comfort food, and plain rice is easy on an upset stomach.

  1. Measure out 1/3 of a cup of rice per person (or half a cup if you really like rice), and twice as much water.
  2. Put a pat of butter into a pot with a lid. Set the open pot on the stove over low heat, and wait for the butter to melt.
  3. Pour the rice and the water into the pot. Turn the heat up.
  4. When the water is boiling (i.e. bubbling a lot), sprinkle about half a teaspoon of salt into the pot, and cover it with the lid. Turn the heat down low again, and set a timer for 20 minutes.
  5. When the timer goes off, lift the lid -- be careful of any steam. Your rice should be cooked, and all the water should be gone. If not, let it cook for a few more minutes and check again.

More Kitchen Aids For Aspies

Taylor Precision Products Classic Roast/Yeast Thermometer
Taylor Precision Products Classic Roast/Yeast Thermometer

Having to "guess" whether things are done sends my anxiety through the roof. With a meat thermometer -- especially one with labels for different foods -- that isn't a problem.

 
Oggi Egg Stainless Steel 60-Minute Kitchen Timer
Oggi Egg Stainless Steel 60-Minute Kitchen Timer

You can use the timer on your stove or microwave, but a portable timer has the advantage that you can go do other things while you wait for your dinner to cook.

 
Microplane 34007 Kitchen Cut-Protection Glove
Microplane 34007 Kitchen Cut-Protection Glove

More gloves -- these will protect you not only from slimy things, but also from your knives.

 
Mead Wirebound Ruled Index Cards, 4 X 6 Inches (63138)
Mead Wirebound Ruled Index Cards, 4 X 6 Inches (63138)

Write down your recipes on regular 4 x 6 index cards.

 
CR Gibson 3-Ring Binder Pocket Page Recipe Book for Recipe Cards, Black Bon Appetit
CR Gibson 3-Ring Binder Pocket Page Recipe Book for Recipe Cards, Black Bon Appetit

Then stash your recipe cards in a handy binder, instead of having to rummage in a box.

 

TIP:

Have a quick snack before you cook. Being hungry makes sensory issues worse.

Aspergers Recipe: Baked Potato

Baked potatoes are versatile, nutritious, and super easy to cook. All you really need is an oven and a fork -- and, if you're sensory defensive, some gloves and an oven rack puller. As a bonus, they stay warm for quite a while once cooked.

  1. Preheat the oven to about 400 degrees.
  2. Wash the potatoes. Don't get too hung up on this step. A quick scrub under running water will get rid of the dust. If you can't stand getting your hands wet, wear your trusty gloves.
  3. Use a paring knife to get rid of any rootlets or greenish patches on your potatoes.
  4. Put the potatoes in the oven, right on the rack. Set a timer for an hour (60 minutes).
  5. When the timer goes off, check your potatoes by sticking a fork through the skin; if they feel soft inside, they're done. Use the fork or an oven mitt to take them out of the oven. You're done!

Now you're cooking!
Now you're cooking! | Source

Aspergers Recipe: English Muffin Pizzas

A flexible lunch or light dinner. These are a little more complicated to make, but not too hard if you have all the materials.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Split English muffins in half. You'll need 2-4 halves (1-2 muffins) per person. Most English muffins come already split... sort of. Slide a fork or table knife into the slit and carefully pull apart. It's okay if the halves aren't even.
  3. Arrange the muffins on a baking sheet.
  4. If desired, add a spoonful or two of pizza sauce to each muffin. (I usually skip this, as I'm not a huge fan of tomato sauce.)
  5. Add cheese -- I use grated cheddar, enough to cover the top of the muffin; use mozzarella or even American if you prefer.
  6. Add toppings. You can use pre-cooked bacon or sausage, sliced mushrooms or olives, bits of bell pepper, M&Ms (maybe not) -- anything that will be okay to eat after it's been in the oven for 15 minutes.
  7. Put the baking sheet in the oven and set a timer for 15 minutes. (You probably saw that coming.) If the cheese is completely melted, you're good to go.

TIP:

Remember to use both hands when necessary! Wear oven mitts to handle hot pots and pans.

Aspergers Recipe: Roast Pork

This is my personal standby -- I do love pork! Baked potatoes go well with it, and to round out the meal with some vitamins, you can add apple slices or green beans (frozen or raw, according to your taste). I also follow the same basic procedure with bone-in chicken breasts, which usually cook a little bit faster.

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Put a defrosted boneless pork roast into a roasting pan or iron skillet. Food-safe nitrile gloves will make this task considerably less disgusting.
  3. Sprinkle flour over the meat. (This will make it crisper on the outside; if you're on a gluten-free diet, you can just skip this step.)
  4. Season to taste. I usually use salt, pepper, and some dried rosemary. The juice of half a lemon and a little powdered ginger also works well.
  5. Put the pan into the preheated oven. Set a timer for one hour (60 minutes).
  6. When the timer goes off, stick a meat thermometer into the middle of the roast to see if it's done -- between 145 and 170 degrees. If not, put it back in and check again in 15 minutes.

Vegetables photo by cooee@morguefile
Vegetables photo by cooee@morguefile

A Note On Vegetables

There are so many kinds of vegetables, and so many different kinds of food issues, that it's hard to recommend anything specific. Personally, I prefer raw veggies (and only a few kinds); other people can only stand them cooked.

If you're one of the latter, How Stuff Works has an exhaustive list of simple instructions for cooking vegetables.

If you're like me, don't worry -- raw vegetables are just as good if not better for you, and usually easy to prepare. Wash them off, cut off the inedible parts, and peel if necessary. Bam, vitamins.

(If you simply can't cope with veggies at all, try substituting fruits and nuts. The world of edible plants is wide enough that there's bound to be something you can eat.)

Dos and Don'ts for Autistic Cooks

  • Do plan ahead. Make sure you have everything you need before you start -- all the food, seasonings, cookware, utensils, and so forth. Changing plans on the fly is stressful, so protect yourself against needless blood pressure spikes by preparing.
  • Don't panic. Most cooking mistakes are recoverable. If a pot boils over, turn off the heat and worry about the mess later. If you can't find a potholder, use a folded dish towel (see, it really does pay to have a towel handy). If you forgot to add the salt, add it now!
  • Do take ownership of the kitchen. Before you start, ask the other members of the household to give you space while you cook, and not come into the kitchen until you tell them to. Cooking is hard for you, so you need to be able to concentrate.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for help. If you do get hung up on something, it's good to have an understanding friend or family member available to bail you out, or at least talk you down. When you've done as much as you can by yourself, there's nothing wrong with asking for a hand.
  • Don't push yourself too hard. If raw meat and eggs freak you out, try some vegetarian recipes first, and combine them with nuts or frozen chicken tenders to provide some protein while you work up your confidence. If you like spaghetti but can't deal with tomatoes, use a canned tomato puree or try alternative toppings. Take it slow.
  • Do write things down. If you're like me and my brother, you have a need to get things exactly right. Get yourself a pack of recipe cards (or just plain index cards) and copy down step-by-step instructions for anything you're not sure of, even if it seems simple. Ask family and friends to dictate their recipes to you, and don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
  • Don't beat yourself up. If your first attempt is a total disaster, just throw it out, order a pizza, and try again later. Take note of the mistakes you make and think of solutions or ways to plan better. Likewise, if you can't bring yourself to cook at all one day, don't give up forever. Give yourself permission to be "lazy" this time.
  • Do persevere. Just because you didn't manage dinner tonight doesn't mean you can't make breakfast tomorrow, so give yourself a breather and then get back in the saddle.

Further Reading

Now that I've covered the basic strategies and given you a few recipes to start with, you may want to check out these additional resources.

Ready to start cooking?

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    • KandH profile image

      KandH 4 years ago

      Very interesting and well laid out presentation on this subject!

    • KReneeC profile image

      KReneeC 5 years ago

      Such a wonderfu lens. This will actually help me while I'm working with my autistic clients that I work with. Thank you so much!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 5 years ago from Colorado

      This was very enlightening. I had never considered that cooking presents unique challenges for those with Autism spectrum disorders. Thank you for shedding light on this for me. Always appreciate the opportunity to better understand how others experience the world.

    • Gayle Mclaughlin profile image

      Gayle 5 years ago from McLaughlin

      Never really thought that Aspergers would have a problem cooking. Thanks so much for the info.

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @jolou: That's the goal! :D

    • jolou profile image

      jolou 5 years ago

      This is really helpful information for people with Aspergers or autism.

    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 5 years ago from Shanghai, China

      What a helpful lens. I liked your comments about slimy meat, and I had never thought of wearing gloves. Good idea! Thanks!

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @MartieG: Thank you!

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thanks so much!

    • damoiselle profile image
      Author

      damoiselle 5 years ago

      @Mistl: I hope so! Thanks :)

    • MartieG profile image

      MartieG aka 'survivoryea' 5 years ago from Jersey Shore

      Such a good source of information to those with Aspergers - very well done!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      Wow - quite an interesting lens! Thank you very much for sharing this insight with us. Blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • Mistl profile image

      Mistl 5 years ago

      I am sure this article will come in handy for many people with aspergers. Good job putting it together.