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How My Learning Disabilities Make Cooking Difficult

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When most people hear the term “learning disabilities,” they think they are only in an academic setting and disappear once school is done. People don’t realize learning disabilities can affect a person at home, in the community and in the workplace. One of those skills that can create difficulty in real life is cooking.

The kitchen can provide many barriers to a person with a disability. Making coffee has always been a challenge for me. I cannot remember all of the steps to operate a traditional coffee maker. I think I was doomed to fail at making coffee from a young age. I remember my cousin and I putting crayons in a coffee maker and almost burning our grandparents’ house down. Thankfully, the fire was put out without the help of the fire company and everyone was safe.

My coffee-making skills did not improve as I grew. I can remember not having a coffee pot in my apartment when I moved out on my own. I still couldn’t make coffee and was more of a tea drinker. My husband wanted a coffee pot when he moved in. He knew I couldn’t make coffee after my attempt to make coffee at his old place. I made him the worst cup of coffee ever! We decided to get a Keurig and it works so much better for me. It’s easier to put the pod in, use the touch screen to adjust the size and pull the lever. My husband has his own small coffee pot, but doesn’t expect me to use it.

Another kitchen appliance that is supposed to be simple but creates difficulty for me is a manual can opener. My limited hand dexterity and eye-hand coordination make it impossible for me to open a can. When I would babysit for families, I would have to ask them to open the can if they wanted me to serve canned ravioli for dinner. Many cans now have easy to open tabs, which are helpful. I also use an electric can opener. It is so much easier to plug in the can opener and use the lever to open a can.

I struggle with measuring due to my dyscalculia. I am unable to read a graduated cylinder. I can read the big numbers and I can see the lines on the cup. The lines are simply bigger and smaller. I am unable to comprehend the measurements. I use measuring cups and spoons with the amount clearly labeled. Understanding measurements goes beyond measuring ingredients. I am unable to understand the language of measuring. If someone refers to something as a quarter cup or three-fourths, I don’t understand what they are saying.

My hand dexterity creates issues with trying to cut things. Thankfully fruits and veggies often come already cut and ready to use. I have learned to cut things safely, but it doesn’t always look pretty. I am not able to cut symmetrically.

I also struggle to read analog timers and dials on appliances. Much like the struggle with a graduated cylinder, the lines on analog knobs mean little to me. I use a digital screen on my stove, microwave and dishwasher. If it isn’t digital, I have to guess the temperature.

Executive functioning issues can create problems with cooking too. A person with executive function issues may have a brain that struggles to get multiple dishes prepared for the meal. They may have trouble with estimating how long something will take to cook. The person may also wonder if they left an ingredient out of the recipe altogether. Distractions can also throw the person with executive functioning off. Having to cook and clean up as you go can also be hard. I have found that preparing as much of the food before cooking is helpful. I also try to set out the nonperishable items I plan to cook with on the counter. Once something is in the cupboard, I forget about it.

Following recipes can also create difficulties for me. I am unable to accurately modify a recipe to double it or reduce it. I also have to pay careful attention to how to make new recipes. I can remember making cookies as a teen and putting a cup of salt instead of sugar in a cookie mix. Those were the saltiest cookies ever! I am able to cook after much practice. I am able to make crockpot dinners and delicious salads. I can remember both my parents’ and my grandma’s cooking as a child. They would encourage me to help out and learn how to cook. I can remember being a little girl and rolling meatballs for wedding soup. I also had cooking classes in school.

Cooking is an important skill for a person with a disability to learn. Ordering take-out can be expensive and is not always the healthiest choice. Cooking meals at home can help a person save money and prepare healthier meals. It is important to remember cooking is a life skill and it may take a person with a disability longer to learn how to cook. Patience, practice, and adaptive cooking equipment are a great recipe for success.

Getty image by Zoff Photo.

Originally published: March 10, 2021
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