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One cup of rice to two and a half cups of water

Everyone has heard this phrase, right? One cup of rice for two and a half cups of water! And then someone claims that it's nothing to know and that anyone can make rice, right? But those who have tried it know it's not like that. And that sometimes it can become much more complicated than that!

And why talk about cooking recipes? some ask. Many of those who are on the autism spectrum, either because they have this diagnosis or because they are relatives of someone with this diagnosis, know that the relationship of autistic people with cooking is not always the best. Whether because of food restrictions and issues related to olfactory, tactile and other hypersensitivities. But also because of the greater difficulty in following a recipe of a certain dish. Or the need to organise in order to finish the meal. Not to mention the motor skills involved in using certain kitchen objects, some of which are sharp. As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why autistic people may stay away from the kitchen. But sometimes, parents themselves feel some reluctance to help their children to try to participate at home in the cooking of meals.

And ultimately, the adult autistic person, living alone, may well ask - Cooking for what? Or for whom? Just for me, it's not worth having so much work!

At the moment I am writing this very text I am cooking lunch here at home. The apparently simple situation of sitting at the kitchen table typing on a laptop and facing the kitchen worktop and the cooker can be quite challenging for some people, particularly those on the autism spectrum. Not least because they can get into some hyper-focus when on the computer and cause them to not pay enough attention to the cooking times of food.

Many of us non-autistic people may think that just following a recipe is enough. And having the necessary food at home, nothing more will be needed. But that is not so! What if I tell you that meal preparation time may be something very important for the autistic person? And this specificity can go as far as to say how much energy is used in the preparation of the meal! Or that having clear enough instructions to help the autistic person to decide which is the best recipe for that day and situation can make all the difference? What about recipes that can be complete but simple and that can be suitable for meltdown days? And a whole range of different possibilities for those who fit while in the group of autistic people who are looking for certain kind of sensory sensations. Or on the contrary, belong to the group of autistic people who want to avoid those same experiences. Or simply, they want to progress in their knowledge of cooking. And to have recipes that can be made and repeated, because there are days when autistic people do not feel ready or willing to make something new. But they still want to make a meal suitable for the event of having some friends over.

That's right, you read that right. The autistic person has invited a group of friendly people to come to their house to eat and spend part of the evening!

Many of us adults know how important it is to know how to cook in order to live independently. We can always count on going to our parents' house and bringing a tupperware set full of goodies from home. And for those who live with their partner, they can always count on their mother-in-law to help them. But even so, adults know how fundamental cooking is to becoming autonomous. Therefore, being able to give this importance to autistic people is fundamental. In other words, from a certain moment of adolescence onwards, there may be a greater willingness to integrate at home the participation of the child in the kitchen in order to develop some cooking skills. And not only the basic recipes of rice and sausages. Even though it is a nutritious and easy dish to make at any time. It is important to be able to think that the adult autistic person may very well want to invite a friend over and try to seduce the person with some of his/her cooking skills.

Often in mental health we hear that there are no recipes. There are no recipes for changing this or that behaviour, difficulty or need. But we may think, as in cooking, that there are recipes that seem to work every time, or most of the time. Being clear, honest and able to provide a vision of hope for our children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder is key. To be able to think that talking about the diagnosis and not hiding it is something fundamental for him/her, namely to be able to protect him/herself from many less positive situations, namely from stigma. Hiding or postponing the diagnosis will not help. Quite the contrary. But also accepting the difference and doing things differently. Just like in the kitchen, many of us have our own way of cooking. And yet, the food turns out the same or tastier. The same happens on the autism spectrum. Being or doing differently is just that, a being and doing differently. And if we can think that cooking has to be for others and be able to please others. It is important to think, whether with or without autism, that it is equally or even more important to cook for oneself, even as a self-care behaviour. And not to have to wait for the validation of others.

There is much to say on this topic, as on everything. But for now I have to turn off the rice!

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