Thursday, April 29, 2010

One Voice February 2010


THE seeds of hope for our children to live independently were planted when we mothers started a monthly cooking class in January 2008. As the children’s interest grew in tandem with their confidence in handling knives and hot ovens, we turned it into a weekly affair. In July 2009, Bake4Fund was set up.

That our children have reached this point where they can learn and earn, and be engaged in an activity they find fun and fulfilling, has given us every reason to rejoice and be thankful.

Like any parent with special needs children, our main focus is to provide them with every interventional therapy possible to help them realise their full potential and equip them for the future. At the heart of it, we desire to see our children lead a purpose-driven life.

Our kids who have an Autism spectrum disorder may be less articulate and appear to be socially inept at times, but they are no less able in showing their affection.

Culinary fun: A cooking class in progress.

Instead of looking at the doom and gloom around us, we figured there must be something we could do with our children. The answer was found in the kitchen.

With our combined experiences and knowledge gained from attending courses on sensory integration therapy, behavioural modification therapy and mediated learning, we realised that the kitchen is a perfect place for incidental learning.

Before we officially turned the kitchen into our classroom, we noticed our children liked to hang out in the kitchen whenever we cooked. Because kitchen was never associated with “therapy time”, they learnt naturally by observing. Soon they offered to stir the pot, peel the garlic and mix the cake batter. The absence of a maid made it a necessity for us mothers to spend time in the kitchen and it turned out to be a blessing.

Having worked in a residential home in Auckland, New Zealand, for adults with learning disabilities where they are encouraged to live independently, we realised that one is never too young to learn how to cook and bake.

There is something about the kitchen that draws people together. There is no shortage of laughter and team spirit when they hang out in the kitchen.

As parents we sometimes get so caught up in wanting our special needs children to be more academically inclined, which usually means learning in a highly structured environment.

Without realising it, we sometimes miss the opportunities for them to learn that are presented in our homes.

In fact, they sooner they get comfortable in the kitchen, the better because there will come a time when they need to live independently.

The kitchen provides an excellenet venue for these children to learn to take care of their own meals, and even earn money to support themselves.

So we are learning, just like our kids, that there are ways and means to inject the element of fun in learning at home. Getting the kids to peel vegetables and fruits of different textures not only helps them overcome their tactile problem, the very act of peeling helps improve their motor skills. The same goes for the use of knives.

Initially we were worried whether they could handle sharp objects without hurting themselves. The knife is an important tool in the kitchen. So they have lots of opportunities to practise.

They started with butter knives and have since progressed to using proper ones for slicing and dicing. They did cut their fingers occasionally but they know that all this is part of the process of learning and growing up.

They have learnt that the first thing they need to do before they start cooking is to wash their hands and put on their aprons.

Sure, there were occasions when there were more egg shells than yolks and egg whites in the cake mixture. But at least the kids have overcome their sensory problem of handling eggs and have the courage and strength to crack them.

Usually we repeat the same recipe a few times until they can master the sequence of steps, identify the ingredients required, and read the labels.

We teach mathematics by using measuring cups and spoons which are marked clearly as 1, ½, ¾ and ¼. The digital scale is very helpful in teaching them to understand addition and subtraction. Because they can read the numbers on the scale when they add or reduce the ingredient until it matches with the one listed, they get the idea of what it means to “add” and “take away”.

We can’t say they have fully grasped the concept but they are getting there because mathematics is a subject they struggle with. The oven’s digital clock is also helpful in understanding the concept of timing. For instance, if the cookies require 18 minutes to bake, we teach them to use the digital clock to increase the time from zero to 18. When the timer buzzes, they know the cookies are done.

Besides getting them familiarised with the steps involved in baking and cooking, we also try to find healthy alternatives as ingredients. So usually we have oats, bran and flaxseed as well as organic molasses sugar added to our recipes.

Since we started selling, the opportunities for them to learn baking increases in addition to their weekly classes. The money gained is saved with the view of setting up a proper place with a big, well equipped kitchen where they can learn, earn and live independently. We hope to see the day when an inclusive cafĂ© is opened where our children can chill out, cook, paint, play musical instruments, sing, dance and do many more activities without being judged “odd”.

Bake4fund can be reached at One Voice is a monthly column which serves as a platform for professionals, parents and careproviders of children with learning difficulties. For enquiries of services and support groups, please call Malaysian Care (TEL 03-9058 2102) or Dignity & Services (TEL 03-7725 5569). E-mail:

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