Tips for involving your child with ASD in the kitchen

Cooking as a family this Thanksgiving can be an enjoyable experience for all parents and children, including those with challenges related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD) such as food aversions or sensory issues. With a bit of planning, the experience can be fun, and help strengthen important skills. The Thompson Autism Center at CHOC offers these tips for involving children with ASD in the kitchen.

Safety first

Talk to your child about the importance of food safety and hygiene. Take the time to explain the danger of sharp knives and hot stoves. Demonstrate hand-washing and have your child practice good hand-washing side-by-side with you before handling any food.

Prepare in advance

Before the cooking begins, spend some time explaining new or unfamiliar words that may be used in the kitchen, like the ingredients and tools you’ll be using. Understanding the vocabulary can make the cooking experience more enjoyable for your child.

Avoid sensory overload

Cooking engages all the senses, which may be overwhelming for children with ASD. Try to avoid using noisy appliances or cooking with strong-smelling ingredients. Allow your child to wear food-safe gloves if they are uncomfortable touching foods with different textures. Try to expose your child to one new physical texture, such as gooey pie dough, and make a game of it.

Choose a favorite dish

Children with ASD are more likely to have food aversions. Involving your child in the kitchen is one step toward tasting new foods. Start by cooking something your child loves to eat. This could be as simple as a sandwich or pizza. If your child wants to eat what they are cooking, they are more likely to be engaged in the preparation.

Keep it simple

Try a recipe that is on the simpler side without a lot of steps. If visual supports are helpful for your child, — like they are for many children with ASD, — use pictures to show the steps of the recipe. Avoid too many activities with complex steps or motor tasks if those are challenging areas for your child. Chopping is a simple activity to try, and it’s a good way to improve fine motor skills. To help your child chop, put your hand over your child’s hand to help them maneuver items.

Complementary tasks

Give your child tasks that complement their strengths. For example, if your child is good at measuring, have them start by measuring ingredients. By mastering the easier skills and gaining confidence, accomplishing the harder task will be a much more enjoyable process.

“Cooking is a skill that can help a child with ASD gain independence as they get older,” says Dr. Tom Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director of the Thompson Autism Center. “It offers a chance for social interaction, lets children feel pride in their work and also may help broaden the range of foods they are willing to eat, as they taste their work. But even more, it is a way for you and your child to connect.”

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What we’re thankful for this year: 2019

The  physicians, nurses, staff and patients that make up the CHOC Children’s healthcare community have much to be thankful for this year. In addition to celebrating our 55th anniversary, expanding our Primary Care Network and preparing to open the Thompson Autism Center, we’re grateful to be able to offer best-in-class care to kids in Orange County and beyond. A few members of the CHOC community share what they are most thankful for this year.

KimberlyChavalasCripe
Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, president and CEO, CHOC Children’s

Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, president and CEO, CHOC Children’s

“I have the privilege of experiencing the magic of the holidays through the eyes of our patients.  Their courage, strength, and optimism inspire our team year-round, and drive us to push the limits of what is possible to ensure the very best outcomes for our community’s children.  From bringing preventive care closer to home, to expanding access to mental health services, CHOC’s mighty brigade is dedicated to keeping kids happy and healthy. And for that, I am especially grateful.”

chris-furman
Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC Children’s Board of Directors

Chris Furman, chairman, CHOC Children’s Board of Directors

“I am grateful for serving as chairman of CHOC’s board of directors.  It’s incredibly heartwarming for me and the entire board to help CHOC’s physicians, staff, volunteers and donors preserve the magic of childhood for thousands of children in Orange County and beyond.”

Emma_Sandhu
Emma Sandhu, vice president, administrator and chief nursing officer, CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

Emma Sandhu, vice president, administrator and chief nursing officer, CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

“I make an effort to live each day with gratitude. I am especially thankful for my family and for having the opportunity to be together this Thanksgiving. I am grateful for the things that I learn each day that help me to be the leader that this amazing organization deserves. Anyone that knows me knows how much I love CCMH and how blessed I feel to be a part of CHOC Children’s. A mighty brigade of passionate associates working side by side each day to serve our most precious gifts, our children.”

Isabella Valdovinos
Isabella, age 10

Isabella Valdovinos, age 10, CHOC Children’s patient

“I’m thankful for my mom, and the nurses and doctors at CHOC who took out my appendix and took such good care of me. I’m looking forward to a healthy and happy Thanksgiving with my family – especially the mashed potatoes and gravy.”

Liz_Hawkins
Liz Hawkins, volunteer, Mental Health Inpatient Center

Liz Hawkins, volunteer, Mental Health Inpatient Center

“As the first volunteer in CHOC’s Mental Health Inpatient Center, I’m humbled to be of service in the simplest of ways, be it a warm smile, a cup of juice, a compassionate ear or a shared laugh with our patients, families and staff. I’m grateful for all of the little things that I experience with our patients; from painting nails, to working on a puzzle, to learning a new game and even just acting silly by rolling around in the grass in our outdoor play area. I’m honored to be embraced so warmly by our patients and incredible staff as a part of the MHIC “Dream Team.” My husband Ryan and I are thankful for our entire MHIC’s dedication to treating our patients with dignity and respect every day and resetting the standard of care for pediatric mental health in this country. We are making history every day at CHOC. Lastly, I am grateful for all of the lessons our MHIC patients teach me: to face challenges head-on, to develop resiliency and self-awareness, to remember that you are never alone and most importantly, that the little things are always the big things. ”

Sterns
Ralph and Sue Stern, CHOC Children’s supporters

Sue and Ralph Stern, CHOC Children’s supporters

“As the grandparents of 10 grandchildren ages 5 – 17 years and all residing in Orange County, we are so grateful to have CHOC in our backyard. To us CHOC is not just a children’s hospital, it’s a healthcare system staffed by superb physicians, along with caring and attentive nurses, technicians and administrative staff. Each time one of our grandchildren has been admitted to CHOC Children’s Hospital as a patient, he or she has been discharged in much better condition. Our gratitude to Kim Cripe, CHOC’s president and CEO, for providing outstanding leadership and to Kara Kipp , CHOC Foundation assistant vice president, and Brianne Ortiz, manager of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department, and the rest of the child life team for the impact of their work.”

Liam Katz
Liam, age 5

Liam Katz, age 5, CHOC Children’s patient
“I am thankful for CHOC, child life, the playroom, the treasure chests, all the doctors and nurses, and the wonderful families and friends we have met.”

dr-tom-megerian-choc-childrens
Dr. Tom Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director, Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s

Dr. Tom Megerian, pediatric neurologist and medical director, Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s

“I am so grateful for the opportunity that the CHOC executive leadership team and the Thompson Family Foundation have given us to open a state-of-the-art autism center. This will allow us to provide a medical home for families and children suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders. My team and I are thankful that we will be able to promote early diagnosis, treatment of co-occurring disorders, education and research for families suffering from ASD.

I am especially appreciative for the gift and privilege of working with colleagues across the CHOC healthcare system in helping make the Thompson Autism Center a reality. Everyone from rehabilitation services, CHOC Children’s Specialists, neurology, psychology, information services, project management, the CHOC Foundation, marketing, and my newfound family within the Thompson Autism Center who have been so supportive and single-minded in their dedication to our patients. Finally, I am grateful to the families who, every day, put their faith and trust in us to care for their children. Thank you for enriching our lives by helping us aspire to be better clinicians, caregivers and citizens.”

Kimberly Burks
Kimberly Burks, charge nurse, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

Kimberly Burks, charge nurse, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital

“As we near the end of 2019, I feel so thankful for my CHOC Children’s at Mission Hospital family. Each member of the team — from our volunteers to our managers — is an integral part of our goal to provide excellent patient care. When things get busy, our team pulls together and works hard to get the job done. I am thankful to work in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) that values patient- centered care and infant developmental care so much.”

chief residents
2019-2020 chief residents

Dr. Timothy Hicks, Dr. Stephanie Lee, Dr. Majid Husain, Dr. Amanda Schafenacker, chief residents

“For the past three years we have had the honor and privilege of learning from the incredible patients, physicians and medical staff at CHOC Children’s as part of the UC Irvine-CHOC Pediatric Residency Program. This year, we are thankful to be serving as the Pediatric Chief Residents. We are especially thankful for our 90+ residents who serve as the frontline providers taking care of the children of Orange County and beyond, our attending physicians and administrative staff for their commitment to education and teaching, and CHOC leadership for their unyielding support and dedication to our training program. Lastly, as pediatricians, we are grateful have the opportunity to partake in CHOC’s mission to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of our children.”

Jessica Ochoa, emergency department admitting representative

“I am thankful for the opportunity to work here at CHOC. I am thankful for all of my coworkers and all of the nurses because without them we would not be able to make a difference in these families’ lives. I am thankful for all the wonderful families that I have been able to meet while working here and last but not least, I am thankful for all the children that come in and continue to brighten our day with all of their little personalities. Happy Thanksgiving to all CHOC employees and CHOC families.”

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Can children outgrow autism?

A study recently published in the Journal of Child Neurology suggests that children may outgrow autism. We spoke to Dr. J. Thomas Megerian, pediatric neurologist and clinical director of the Thompson Autism Center at CHOC Children’s, about what parents should know about these findings.

What does this study’s findings mean for parents?

Many parents ask me, “Will my child outgrow autism?” and I always tell them that what we hope for is that with services and growth, the child will improve so much that after as little as a few years, they no longer meet the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Outgrowing the label may mean they have learned to compensate or overcome some challenges like socialization or repetitive movements. They may have little features left of ASD, and what symptoms they do have, may cease to interfere with their development or daily lives. When they have progressed to the point where they have outgrown the label, any remaining traits may be so small that only a parent would notice, but a new person who has just met the child wouldn’t pick up on anything.

However, I advise my patients’ parents that if and when their child outgrows the label of autism, they may still have other co-occurring issues like anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities that require ongoing care.

So yes, indeed this study should give parents hope surrounding a child’s ability to outgrow the autism label, despite their other potential ongoing issues.

In some instances, schools may suggest a decrease in services because a child has improved and outgrown the label of autism. That same child may still be struggling with organization or learning certain subjects. Parents may be in a position to say that just because their child has outgrown the autism label doesn’t mean they do not have a need for additional support.

What does life look like for a child previously diagnosed with autism who is no longer on the spectrum?

Learning disabilities, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit disorder are common among children with ASD. Rates of other disorders are common among children with autism, including: gastrointestinal disorders, ear infections, seizures and anxiety. They may clear up later in life or become better managed, but they don’t necessarily go away at the same time as their autism label.

Residual symptoms of these co-occurring diagnoses may last into adulthood. For example, a child may outgrow their ASD label but still have anxiety that can be managed by cognitive behavioral therapy.

Why is early detection and early intervention of autism so important?

Early detection and intervention help many kids outgrow the autism label in the future due to improvements with socialization and repetitive behavior. It’s important for people to remember that just because they have lost the autism label, doesn’t mean they don’t have other diagnoses or disorders that may require ongoing treatment.

There’s no question that early intervention makes a big difference in helping kids with the potential to outgrow their ASD diagnoses achieve that milestone even sooner. The trajectory has changed for many of those kids.

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