System Helps Adults with Autism Learn to Cook

It is a known fact that people with autism learn differently.  This can make it challenging to learn the daily routines that are necessary in order to live independently.  A graduate student at Syracuse University has created a system designed to simplify the process of cooking for people with autism, which for some, could lead to greater independence.

The Match Cooking Prep System was designed by 23 year old Amanda Savitsky.  She created the system for her thesis project in Industrial Design and Psychology, and it has really made an impact on the autism community.

Savitsky, who has a sibling with autism, realized that cooking is an activity that requires a level of planning  and coordination that can be overwhelming to people with autism.  She sought a way to break the process down, and to offer visual cues to help the individual complete each step independently.

The system consists of three numbered match bowls and four measuring utensils that come on a wooden platform with a magnetic stand.  The system also comes with an I-Pad app that breaks down recipes into simpler instructions that are easier to follow.  The measuring utensils are different colors and shapes, and come with larger handles to help individuals with fine motor difficulties.

Savitsky consulted with Natalie Russo, professor of Psychology at Syracuse University, to design the system.  The steps are consistent with the principles of TEACCH, an approach used to educate people with autism.  The workstations have a left-to-right layout to create structure and routine.

The I-Pad app guides the cook through all of the steps necessary to prepare the meal.  Each task appears as a visual slide show, which can be customized for each individual.  Cooking is broken down into a regular routine, starting with hand-washing and gathering all necessary ingredients.  The ingredients are gathered first because routine is very important to people with autism, and an interruption in the cooking process can cause distress. The next step is to measure the ingredients one by one and place them in the bowls in the order stated on the I-Pad.  Once the ingredients are measure and laid out, they can be combined and prepped as necessary.

The I-Pad app prompts the individual to complete steps that would not be prompted in a typical recipe, such as hand-washing, because people with autism may not think to complete these steps on their own.  The app also prompts the individual as to which measuring cup and bowl should be used for each ingredient.

The goal is to help the individual master each individual step in the process, and to give the individual the feeling of competence that comes with accomplishing a task that will lead to a better quality of life.

The Match Cooking Prep System won the top prize of $10,000 at the 2013 Metropolis Next Generation Competition.  The next step will be to set up a crowd-funding site to raise money to develop the product and make it as affordable as possible.