I work in a generic special school for students with moderate, severe, profound and multiple learning disabilities, and autism. I have been a special needs teacher for 11 years and have cooked almost every kind of food with people with a range of learning difficulties. For this, I have the help of my mother, Sue Rose, who was a cookery writer for The Oxford Mail. Her voluntary help has benefited everyone. She brings her expertise in cooking and food, and I use my knowledge of special needs to modify the recipes she suggests.
I have found that cooking can be one of the most effective ways to approach almost every area of the curriculum. We study healthy eating in PHSE, and measuring in numeracy. Reading recipes can show an understanding of text in literacy. We make food from different eras and cultures in humanities, and use food to mark diverse religious festivals. Observing changes in food can be part of our science curriculum, and designing packaging for the food can be done in design and technology.
Students with autistic spectrum disorders need the instructions for activities presented clearly and visually. I break the recipes down into small steps and convert the text into symbols using Writing With Symbols software.
For students who follow a more sensory curriculum, spicy and herbal recipes afford opportunities to smell and taste. Bread dough, trifle and polenta are wonderful to feel and squeeze. Students who use hand and head switches can operate blenders and food processors with these. Activities such as making bread and rolling sushi are excellent for practicing fine motor skills.
Students tend to be motivated by the cooking and, of course, the eating, so their behaviour is often good. For my mother, the best part is sharing her love of cooking with such enthusiastic students. Reactions range from "ugh - don't like it" to "I am going to be Jamie Oliver". And they are so inventive - who says oatcakes can't be cat-shaped?
Oakview School, Loughton, Essex