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Learning Center Experience
By Keri McCorvey M.CCC-SLP, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Adjunct Faculty
As a speech-language
pathologist (SLP) working with young children with autism, I use a variety of
therapy tools, activities, and strategies to address my students’ language
weaknesses. I serve the majority of my students in a “push-in” model in their
classrooms in collaboration with their special education teacher. I have found
that a great way to address a large number of my students’ objectives in a
group activity is though cooking activities. Through simple cooking activities
I can address labeling and identifying the food items, answering “why” questions,
as well as sequencing and turn-taking.
planning my cooking activities for the month, I work with the special education
teacher and plan my cooking activities around the preschool theme. For example,
next month the classroom will be learning about spring and will be introduced
to include vocabulary such as flowers, planting, butterflies, caterpillars, and
other insects. In my experience, children with autism need multiple exposures
to vocabulary to be able to use and generalize what they have learned into
their spontaneous speech. All of my monthly speech and language activities,
including cooking, will be centered around the classroom. For example, in the
month of April, one of the cooking activities we will make as a class is
“dirt.” The students will be learning about dirt and planting through the books
the teacher has selected and in classroom activities. The “dirt” we will make
during cooking will actually be made up of pudding, cookies, and gummy worms. In
my experience, the students enjoy the cooking activity as a weekly treat and do
not even realize that I am addressing many of their language goals and
the cooking activity by introducing the recipe (outlined below) in pictures. Children with autism respond very
well to visual cues and the recipe has the ingredients listed in pictures as
well as the steps in the activity. I then talk about each ingredient that we
will be using. The students are encouraged to label the items if they are
verbal; if not, they can label the items using sign language or by pointing to
the pictures as we go through each ingredient.
Next, we begin making the
cooking project step by step. I encourage students to request the items that
they need for each step using their communication skills, and cue
students to use more language. For example if a student requests pudding by
simply saying “pudding,” I use verbal cues and a model to encourage the student
to say “I want pudding.” As we go through the steps on the recipe, I address my
students’ sequencing skills by asking, “What are we going to do next?” The
students continue to use their expressive language skills to request every item
necessary to complete the activity. Students with autism often have difficulty
learning and using the social rules of language. This simple cooking activity
gives them the opportunity to use basic manners such as saying please and thank
you when making requests. Turn-taking and following directions are addressed
through the students waiting for their turn to request items and following my
verbal and visual directions on the recipe. After all of the steps are
complete, the students are rewarded by getting to eat their treat.
students take home their recipe and their families are encouraged to ask them
questions about the cooking activity of the week. I have heard many positive
comments from parents regarding how much the students enjoy our cooking
projects. Many parents repeat the recipe at home which encourages
generalization of skills into the home environment. I have found that my
students with autism benefit from and enjoy completing my cooking projects.
Dirt Recipe, Created By Keri McCorvey M.CCC-SLP
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