London, UK – This past weekend The Guardian wrote a piece about a London school for children with autism ‘revolutionising’ lunchtimes. Queensmill school that is located near Shepherd’s Bush in West London has 140 pupils, ranging from the age of 2 to 19. Many of the children are preverbal and use a PECS based system to communicate.
Head Chef at the school, Djalma Lucio Polli de Carvalho, known as Lucio,is a Brazilian who worked previously as a journalist.
The article highlighted the issues of the sensory nature of food and that for many children on the autism spectrum, food and eating can be a challenging aspect of their day.
Headteacher Jude Ragan told The Guardian that children on the spectrum can have a ” very difficult relationship with food”, and further added:
“They have such high levels of stress and fear of the world that their poor digestive systems are always in a turmoil. They can have sensory sensitivities that make smells repellent to them.”
Caroline Bulmer, who is a specialist occupational therapist at the school agrees and told that children can be hypersensitive to the touch and smell of food.
“But the way this presents itself can be very varied. They can like crunch or heat, because they need a sensory hit. Others may head in the opposite direction towards bland foods. What’s more, these things can change for individuals depending on their mood and how much they’ve slept.”
The importance of routine and the need for some children to use the same cutlery or plates, is also touched upon with the fact that these patterns need to be gently broken.
Lucio describes his job as a balancing act, as he has to extend the range of food that the children are exposed to as well as them being able to eat what is provided. He makes a note of what foods go down well and then adapts it slightly so that the children are introduced to subtle changes. On average each meal costs £1.20.
“As well as everything else, I’m preparing the kids for the outside world. They can’t just assume it’s always going to be fish fingers, peas and chips out there.”
For those children who may not be too sure of a new food, they are give a small portion to try and can then go back for more. Sometimes ingredients are placed separately on the plate and sometimes a child may reject everything that they are offered. If that happens, Lucio always has a sandwich or a bowl of pasta ready for them.
Children are encouraged to try new food and use pictures to ask for what they want to eat.
The way in which Lucio helps the children with their dietary sensitivities is clearly explained in the story of Finn, a 15-year-old student at the school, who only ate burnt toast or food that was black. Over a period of time, Lucio made toast that was less and less burnt, and now Finn can eat toast that is only slightly brown.
The Guardian asked Jude Ragan what impact Lucio has had on school mealtimes.
“Tables used to be thrown over, that sort of thing. That’s stopped. Because the kids are eating, obviously they aren’t hungry which means the afternoons are better. The teachers feel properly cared for, which they deserve to be. But mostly we can just take pleasure in food. It’s a part of the day we all enjoy.”
To read this informative article in full, please visit The Guardian website.
Source: Jay Reyner:The Guardian: The lunchtime revolution at a school for children with autism