By Arlyn Roffman, Ph.D.
The multi-step process of planning and preparing a meal is a daunting prospect for many young adults. For individuals with learning disabilities (LD) and/or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD), even organizing a trip to the grocery store can be trying, as it requires putting together a grocery list, locating house and/or car keys, and finding one's checkbook, debit card, or enough cash to pay for purchases.
This article will explain how the characteristics of LD and AD/HD may present challenges for kids who are learning to plan and prepare meals. I will also offer strategies for teaching your child the various skills involved in meal preparation, from planning a menu through kitchen clean-up.
Some people enjoy planning a meal; others find it a chore. The process of planning a balanced and tasty meal requires imagination, a basic understanding of nutrition, a sense of whether the meal being planned is within the limits of one's budget, and the ability to obtain the necessary ingredients.
The table below illustrates some of the ways various characteristics of LD and AD/HD can result in challenges to meal planning.
|Learning or Attention Problem||Challenges when Planning a Meal|
|Reading||Trouble reading through cookbooks for recipes|
|Receptive language (understanding written or spoken language)||Problems understanding common meal planning terms, such as "appetizer" or "main course"|
|Math||Trouble adjusting recipe ingredients to suit the number of people to be served (e.g., "doubling" a recipe)|
|Writing||Problems making a list of items to be purchased for the meal|
|Distractibility||Difficulty staying focused during the meal-planning process (e.g., while making up a shopping list of groceries needed to prepare the meal)|
The chaotic environment of a grocery store can be overwhelming, and working one's way through the aisles and the checkout line can be very stressful. The process of shopping for food is complicated by specific deficits associated with LD and AD/HD.
The table below illustrates how various types of learning and attention problems can result in challenges at the grocery store.
|Learning or Attention Problem||Challenges when Shopping|
|Reading||Trouble deciphering aisle signs and food labels|
|Math||Difficulty understanding unit pricing, calculating the cost of sale items, and tracking the accumulating costs as items are selected and placed in the shopping cart|
|Visual memory||Remembering the layout of the store and which aisle to go to for certain items|
|Visual figure-ground discrimination (trouble focusing one's vision on a single item within a "busy" visual background)||Trouble finding a specific brand of bread or cereal among the dozens of choices on the shelves|
|Distractibility||Trouble staying focused and on task while shopping|
|Impulsivity||Difficulty controlling "impulse buying" of items that are not on the shopping list|
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