During COVID-19, many children and adults with the autism spectrum have had to quit going to the various therapies that help them develop life skills and cope with the unique difficulties that life with autism can present. But with a little help and creativity, one woman is finding a new way to bring one type of therapy to the people who need it.
With the help of a partner, Katherine Murwin teaches virtual cooking classes called “Sensory Cooking” to a small group of children and adults on the spectrum. This type of “cooking club” food therapy introduces autistic people to new smells, tastes, and textures in the hopes of encouraging them to diversify what they eat and learn new skills in the kitchen.
Food sensitivities are common in children and adults on the autism spectrum. New tastes and textures can be difficult to adjust to, leading to extremely restrictive diets, a lack of knowledge about following recipes and cooking in general, and even social difficulties surrounding food.
For young people like Ethan Melville, Sensory Cooking has made all the difference. Ethan used to separate himself from his family during mealtimes and refused to participate or eat anything new.
“It has always been with him, challenging,” Ethan’s mom, Nicole Melville says. “Food is just a challenge. We can’t go to places with strong smells.”
Ethan has been through several different types of feeding therapies but still has a very picky palate. We call him a ‘pizzatarian,” says Nicole. “Cheese pizza only.”
Now, after just a few Sensory Cooking classes, Ethan has finally learning to enjoy cooking and eating new foods. “He’s just been able to be involved with dinner and family dinner,” Nicole says.
Katherine hosts her cooking club through Zoom so that her students can watch from the safety and comfort of their homes. She teaches her them how to enjoy food not only with their mouths but also with their noses and eyes, and she hopes to instill an appreciation for healthy and tasty food that her students can keep with them for decades.
Another goal of the club is to help people with autism gain life skills and, ultimately, independence.
“Eventually what we’re hoping is that these kiddos will be able to virtually shop online or go to the grocery store, look at a recipe, create a list,” says Katherine.
She posts videos of her classes online so that others can also benefit from this food therapy. Check out the video below to see the class in action.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?