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Simple and Inclusive Cookie Baking and Decorating Tips for Neurodivergent Children



Nothing says winter holidays like the smell of fresh cookies in the oven! The holidays are a wonderful time for creating memories together through cooking and baking projects. 


For families with neurodivergent children, this process can still be enjoyable and even therapeutic with a few simple adjustments. 


Let’s explore some tips and tricks to make holiday cookie baking and decorating as accessible and stress-free as possible. 


 

Preparation Is Key

As with most things in life, set yourself up for success by being as prepared as possible. 


Start with a clean workspace. Set aside any other projects in the kitchen so you can focus on the task at hand. 


Be sure to have extra ingredients on hand for any unexpected twists and be ready to roll up your sleeves and have some fun!


Set Expectations

Children thrive on routine, and that is even more true for our neurodivergent kids. 


Consider creating a visual schedule or social story to outline the steps that will need to be followed from start to finish. 


Helping them visualize the entire process will keep everyone on task. Plus, it is incredibly rewarding to check items off the “to-do” list. 


Choose Sensory Friendly Ingredients

You know your child best, so use ingredients that appeal to them to encourage engagement. 


Let them explore with all their senses as much as they are comfortable. 


For children who are particularly sensitive to certain textures, let them observe instead. There are plenty of ways to engage the other senses with sight, sounds, and smells. 


Keep It Simple

There is no need to go overboard! The idea is to enjoy the activity together, so don’t make it overly complicated. 


If your child wants to mix and scoop, let them participate in making the dough. If they are fascinated with picking out the cookie cutters, then roll out some premade dough and let them focus on cutting out the shapes. If all they seem interested in is the decorating, why not bake the cookies ahead of time or use store bought cookies that are ready to go. 


The key is to find the part of the activity you think your child will enjoy most and make that your focus. 


Create Adaptable Workstations

Keep frustrations to a minimum by having adaptable workstations ready to go. 


Set up each station with age and developmental ability in mind. If a table or countertop is too tall, have a chair or step stool ready. 


Having multiple stations set up ahead of time can also be helpful. While safety is always a priority, there is nothing more frustrating than tools that don’t perform. 


Having age and developmentally appropriate tools ready to go will help limit frustrations and keep everyone enjoying the activity. 


Don’t Stress The Mess

Embrace the mess while finding ways to keep it less stressful for everyone. 


If your child is especially sensitive to stickiness, put the frosting in squeeze bottles to help them avoid sticky fingers. If getting frosting and sprinkles all mixed up is too much to handle, use small dishes to hold the different toppings and a spoon to scoop. 


Placing all the items inside of a tray or on a baking sheet will help to keep everything contained. For some neurodivergent children the tactile experience of spreading icing or squishing cookie dough may provide a sense of satisfaction. 


Choose outfits that can get dirty and have fun aprons or protective coverings available to wear. Using parchment paper to cover counters or cooking sheets and disposable table cloths for the floor underneath workspaces can help make cleaning up simple. 


Celebrate The Small Things

When it comes to our neurodivergent kids, there is no moment too small. 


Even if the project needs to be set aside for the day and revisited later on, be excited about what you were able to accomplish together. 


Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate each step of the activity along the way. If your child sees you excited about completing a task or doing something new for the first time, they will be too. 


Positive reinforcement will boost their confidence and create a positive association with the activity. 


Conclusion

Holiday baking activities can be a delightful and inclusive experience for everyone! 


By understanding and accommodating the unique needs of each individual, we can create an environment that fosters joy, creativity, and meaningful relationships. 


The most important thing to remember is that it is not about perfection. It’s about spending time together and creating memories that will last a lifetime.


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