Friday, October 28, 2011

To Be Continued.........

With great sadness, our posts must be suspended for the time being.  Please stay tuned as we hope this will only be a temporary pause in our goals for awareness, understanding and fun.  Our dedication is unwavering and we hope to continue soon.

-Abby and Molly

Monday, October 17, 2011

Adding Fun to Food: Revisiting the Autism Food Fight

As discussed previously in our post about picky eaters, mealtime is a huge battle for those on the spectrum.  This leaves parents/teachers frustrated and individuals with autism even less apt to try new foods.  There are many hurdles so incorporating new ideas and trying a variety of things is important.

Make it an Activity
Having the individual participate in making food is a way to make it more fun and the child can be part of the activity rather than on the 'sidelines'.  Snacks and mealtime can be more of a fun learning time.

-Simplify directions - Simple step-by-step instructions using objects/food items, picture or short words depending on the level of understanding. 

-Pre-measure - If numbers, fractions, etc are stressful, eliminate that from the cooking task.  Measure out items and label bowls so that it will not include any stresses. 

-Use Interests - Lots of fun food recipes are available online, beyond what is included below.  Make it specific to your child's interest in trains, animals or cars.  Use cookie cutters to make letters, dinosaurs, etc.  Ice cube trays to mold jello into fun shapes or other foods.  Create 'faces' on food with raisins, pepper strips, marshmallows, etc. 

Visually Appealing Recipes
The Internet is a source of great recipes.  Visually appealing food can make it more interesting to kids and hopefully catch their interest enough to give a try.  Here are a few a the fun recipes we have found:

Cheesy Chums (

  • mini cheese round (such as Babybel)
  • small pieces of red bell pepper, scallions, carrot, and olives
  • whole wheat crackers
  1. Use a sharp knife (an adult's job) to trim the wax covering from a mini cheese round, then add facial features with small pieces of red bell pepper, scallions, carrot, and olives*. Serve with a short stack of whole wheat crackers.
Tips:  We used cocktail straws and drinking straws to punch round eyes from olive halves.
Garden Octopus (
  • 2 bell peppers
  • Dip or hummus
  • Black olives
  1. For the octopus's body, remove the pepper's stem end and scoop out the white ribs and seeds. For the arms, slice a second pepper into strips.
  2. Place some dip or hummus (we used French onion dip) in a shallow bowl, and arrange the octopus as shown. Use a bit of dip and sliced black olives to give your creature eyes.
  3. Serve with extra veggies, such as carrot sticks, fresh green beans, lightly steamed broccoli spears, sliced cucumber, and jicama sticks.

 Breakfast Smiles

Breakfast for lunch or dinner is also an option. 
Use eggs, fruit (of your choice) and meat (bacon, sausage, ham)

Cheesy Ham Shapes (
6 Flour Tortillas
2 cups shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 cup diced, cooked ham or 6 slices of ham lunch meat
1/4 cup sliced green onions (optional)

Remove tortillas from refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. Preheat oven to 375° F.
Place shredded cheese, ham and green onions, if desired, onto bottom half of tortillas. Fold tortillas in half over filling.
Place folded tortillas on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the cheese is melted. To serve, cut in half for triangles or use cookie cutters for fun shapes.

Macaroni and Trees  (
salt for pasta water, plus 1/2 tsp more for cheese sauce
4 cups broccoli florets
8 oz Tri-Color Fusilli (about half bag)
3 TB unsalted butter
2 TB all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
pinch black pepper
pinch cayenne pepper
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

*Warm Cinnamon Pear Compote
2 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 cup raisins
1/3 cup organic apple juice
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
2 tsp butter (optional)
1 TB cider vinegar or red wine vinegar
black pepper
To prepare the Macaroni and Trees
Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add broccoli, return to a boil and cook, uncovered, until al dente, about 4 minutes. Remove broccoli with a slotted spoon, leaving the water in the pot. Boil the pasta in the reserved water until just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook gently for about 1 minute. Whisk milk, salt, pepper and cayenne. Bring milk mixture to a simmer, reduce the heat, and cook for about 5 minutes until mixture thickens. Stir in two thirds of the cheese. When the cheese is melted, remove saucepan from heat and set aside.

In 2 quart, ovenproof dish, combine the pasta with two-thirds of the cheese sauce. Add the broccoli to the remaining cheese sauce in the saucepan. Encircle the pasta in the dish with a border of the broccoli. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and broil for about 3 minutes, until cheese begins to bubble.

To prepare compote
Combine pears, raisins, apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and butter in a small saucepan. Cook, uncovered over medium heat, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add vinegar and black pepper and continue to cook about 5 more minutes until juice is reduced and pears begin to fall apart. Cool 5 minutes. Serve on the side with Macaroni and Trees.
Serves 4


SHAKE 'N BAKE® Chicken Nugget Kabobs (

1 to 1-1/4 lb. boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 1-1/2 to 2-inch pieces
1 pkt.  SHAKE 'N BAKE Extra Crispy Seasoned Coating Mix
2 cups KRAFT Cheddar Cheese Cubes
1-1/2 cups  cherry tomatoes
1 can (8 oz.) pineapple chunks
12   (9-inch) wooden skewers

Make It

PREHEAT oven to 400°F. Moisten chicken pieces with water. Shake off excess. Shake 3 or 4 pieces at a time with coating mix. Discard any remaining coating mix. Place in ungreased or foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan.
BAKE 15 minutes or until cooked through.
ARRANGE 3 cooked chicken nuggets, 3 cheese cubes, 2 tomatoes and 1 pineapple chunk on a wooden skewer. Repeat with remaining skewers. Serve with 1/3 cup KRAFT Barbecue Sauce or 2/3 cup KRAFT Ranch Dressing.


Mini Taco Bowls (

8 flour tortillas (6 inch)
1 lb.  extra-lean ground beef
1 cup TACO BELL® HOME ORIGINALS® Thick 'N Chunky Salsa
1/2 cup  KRAFT 2% Milk Shredded Cheddar Cheese
2 cups chopped lettuce
1   tomato, chopped
1/4 cup KRAFT Ranch Dressing

Make It

HEAT oven to 350°F.
MICROWAVE tortillas on HIGH 30 sec. Line each of 8 muffin cups with 1 tortilla. Carefully fold back edges of tortillas, leaving opening in centers for filling.
BAKE 10 min. Meanwhile, brown meat in large skillet; drain. Stir in salsa; bring to boil. Simmer on medium-low heat 10 min.
SPOON meat mixture into tortilla bowls; top with remaining ingredients.
TACO BELL® and HOME ORIGINALS® are trademarks owned and licensed by Taco Bell Corp.

Ants on a Log
Peanut butter or Cream cheese

Get Extra Veggies, Fruits and Vitamins
When necessary, hide the veggies and add nutrients where you can.  Sometimes getting those with autism to try new foods seems close to impossible.  The preference is to have kids learn to like a variety of foods but sometimes masking them is the only way to help those picky eaters. 

Pureed Vegetables & Fruits -
Baked squash, sweet potatoes and carrots along with blended berries, apples and peaches can be added to foods to add nutrition.  A cup of veggies into mac and cheese or spaghetti can be hidden. 

After cooking & blending, pour puree into ice cube trays

Add frozen puree (carrots) to meal (spaghetti sauce)

Vitamins -
ALWAYS consult a doctor for nutritional supplements.  Omega-3, Flax seed and Brewer's Yeast are a few of the easy ways to add powdered or liquid vitamins to food.  Fish Oil can be a stronger taste/smell and may be harder to hide but many ground supplements have little to no taste. 
Pour powdered supplements (such as flax) into sauces, casseroles, yogurt, etc

Small Changes -
Changes are difficult but not impossible.  With foods, we need to incorporate new foods on a regular basis but not change everything at once.  Slower changes in added nutrition, new snacks or a unique fruit/veggie, will be easier to accept.


Monday, September 19, 2011

ACTIVITIES ON THE ANGLE: Rewards and Motivation

Reward systems, praise and motivation are not always a perfect match for individuals with autism.  Using rewards that are more understandable and meaningful can take a little creativity and patience.  A few things to keep in mind when making these systems more understandable can go a long way.  We talked previously about behavior difficulties that can occur with those on the spectrum.  We want to go more in depth with the motivation so that some of these difficulties can be avoided. 

Tips for rewarding: 
Make it Visual:  Show through pictures, objects or short written information. 

More Immediate:  Make sure the time from the reinforcement (such as TV time at home) is not too far from when the action (such as cleaning up at school) occurred.  There are a lot of students that can understand rewards at the end of the day or week but there are just as many that do not make this connection. 

Individualize the Reward:  We aren't all motivated by the same thing and it can change for all of us as well.  Stay on top of what is the current interest to help things from getting stale. 

Don't Take Away:  Removing rewards that are earned are not recommended.  It is confusing enough trying to make the connection between what 'to do' and the end result. 

Systems to Use:

First-Then Sequence
Through pictures, objects or words (depending on your child's current level of understanding), you can visually show first 'this' happens and then you receive 'this'.  Starting out very slow with contingencies is important, in other words, we want the child to understand that this behavior = this outcome.  We don't want to jump to complex reward systems that may be confusing and therefore not meaningful. 

First brush teeth, then TV time

First put your jacket on, then you can play outside

Puzzle Pieces
This system can be used for TV time, toy or other treat.  Simply cutting up a picture of a specific item of interest can help create a reward system that is specific to that child's motivation.

This child earns pieces of a tractor and then gets to go visit his Grandfather's farm.

This chart is earning 3 pieces of a treasure box and then the individual gets to chose one item out of the treasure box.
Reward Charts
Lot of samples can be found of these online.  Specific characters can be used to help motivate the individual.  Whether it is 'Thomas the Train', 'Dora' or 'Sponge Bob', charts can be found at various sites to incorporate the interest. 
-A few sites we have found:

Token System 'I Did My Chores' 
I lucked out finding this at a consignment sale.  This system is like a token system/economy.  It can be too complex for some students, so use a system that you have assessed to make sure it is understandable to the individual. 

This system can be purchased online:

Choice Board
Also, using choices of rewards allows for flexibility with what is available but also giving the individual control over what they want. 

Creating motivation for your child or student can greatly increase compliance, interest and enjoyment.  We are looking forward to finding new ways to motivate individuals on the spectrum and always looking for new ideas!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Moving from an Object to a Picture Schedule

Abby recently posted on object schedules (go to post) and stressed the importance of using a schedule that is sensitive to the child's understanding at the current moment. She's right, we often jump too quickly to using an icon/word schedule with children who might not yet be identifying pictures, so how do we know when they're ready to use pictures?

  • One way to access a child's understanding of pictures is to see if they can match them.
  • Start with actual photographs first. This is less abstract than icons and may be more easily understood. See if your child can match exact photographs to each other
  • Also see if your child receptively understands the picture. So, you may want to sit him/her at a table (to help with focus) and ask your child to "point to the playground," for example to see if they can identify that photograph and distinguish it from others. Some children may still recognize that the picture represents a place, however, so even if he/she cannot identify the picture of the play room by pointing to the picture, if they still take that picture to the area and recognize that play time is next, than that's o.k. The key here is to look at what your child understands independently (without anyone having to lead them to the area on the schedule item).
  •  If your child is showing skills in this area, then you may want to start using photographs. In this transition you can also put the actual photograph on the object and then gradually just use the photograph.
  • Similarly, with icons start by seeing if your child can match icons to each other and identify the picture. For beginning readers, you can also include the word on the picture but if your child is still very young and not yet recognizing letters, then it's not necessary to have the word on the picture.

Using pictures for a schedule can certainly be overwhelming for parents in knowing where to start and where to find these resources. Just remember, it does not need to be beautiful, it just needs to be visual. So, if you can easily sketch a picture on a sticky note, that's perfect! For me personally, I can barely draw a stick-figure so it makes things a bit complicated..... so, where can you go for easy and free pictures?
Here are a few websites:

Examples of icons on Do2Learn Website

Google Images-- (click on images and just type in what you want to find). Especially if your child understands photographs better, this is a great site and even if your child is using icons (at school, for example) and understands those, it's still o.k to use actual exact images-- they will still be understandable! You can easily print out schedule items that you are likely to use on a daily or weekly basis, such as errands you run (Target, Grocery Store etc) or activities at home, like Dinner Time, Getting Dressed, etc.  

Do2Learn-- This site has tons of printable icons for free. They are mostly in black and white and you can print them either with or without words. I love this site because it has tons of pictures for daily living skills and activities in the home and the community. It's a great resource for parents!

Autism Buddy- You will have to join this site, but it's free and then you can download many visuals and other activities. They have many clipart images that you may also be able to get on your computer.

Visual Aids for Learning- This is a great website for free images as well. You can download complete packages, such as the "Early Childhood package" or "School package", even a "Toilet Training package" with tons of images related to these categories.

Board Maker: This program is super expensive (check it out), but if you work with lots of children or for a company that would pay for it :), this is a nice program where you can type in what you're looking for and it will produce an color icon that you can then print out. I would recommend checking out the free websites before investing in such an expensive program first though!

Again, it can often be overwhelming to know where to start in using a schedule
with your child and I think picture schedules can often be the most intimidating. 
Here are some points to keep in mind that might make it easier:

  • It does NOT need to look beautiful. You do NOT need to laminate. Card stock or contact paper are other options for more sturdy cards
  • It's o.k to simply draw something out and put it on a stick note-- or use stickers, whatever is easy!
  • Get out your camera and take pictures! Digital camera make this a lot easier this day and age! 
  • If you do not have a picture handy, use an object to aid in understanding. For example, it's time to get in the car and you don't have a picture and your child is reluctant to transition. Grab your keys and hand them to your child and say, "time to go in the car."
  • You do not need to run out and buy a bunch of velcro. You can use paperclips on a sheet of paper to present the pictures in a top-bottom or left-right fashion. 
  • Don't try to initially schedule the ENTIRE day. Just start with part of it. Once the child is used to using the schedule and understands it, then just start with using a schedule at home during the most difficult times and you can always add to it!
Stay posted for future posts on why we use schedules, how much info to include on schedules, and how the person with ASD can interact with or manipulate the schedule!

- Molly