Photo of students cooking

There’s something cooking at Mary Williams Elementary School that’s putting a smile on students’ faces and teaching valuable life skills. Pancakes, eggs, pizza, pasta, and tacos are just a few of the dishes that teachers, Kari George and Kara DiCarlo, have whipped up through the Cooking Autism national program; which introduces students with autism to new foods they may not have tried otherwise.

 DiCarlo and George teach students with autism, and both have a son with autism. They said they were attracted to the profession to help children like their own. They’ve seen firsthand the difference an effective teacher can make and are passionate about helping their students succeed.

“I feel so blessed to be working with this specific team in this program because every single person who’s in these classrooms is here because they love these children. They want to help these children find success and be successful in whatever way brings them happiness in life,” said DiCarlo.

Every week, DiCarlo and George lead Cooking Autism classes that teach students lessons through the culinary arts. They currently have 24 students enrolled in the program at Mary Williams, ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade. The Cooking Autism classes are fun for students but also teach cleanliness habits, socialization, and fine motor skills, and place an emphasis on following written and verbal instructions.

During one lesson, DiCarlo and George made pancakes for the class and taught students the process by reading the book, Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle. George had students take turns reading sections of the book and asked them questions. Once she was finished reading the story, George asked the class to help her make the pancakes. DiCarlo and George got the students involved by letting them pour the mix and stir the batter, but only the adults worked the griddle. Students’ faces lit up when it was time to eat, and every bite they took was met with cheering and applause.

“One of the biggest benefits that we’ve seen in kids enrolled in Cooking Autism is that more of them are willing to try new foods. Children with autism are often very strict in their diets, they refuse to eat many different types of food,” said George. “The Cooking Autism program and pressure from their peers often gets them to try new foods, and that’s wonderful.”

The Cooking Autism program was founded in 2018, and in five short years it has expanded to 75 classrooms across six states (Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia). George is on the Cooking Autism Board of Directors and launched this non-profit program at Mary Williams when she started teaching there in 2021. Over the years, George has received many praises from parents thrilled to see their child eat something new. Parents have raved about their children breaking away from only eating chicken nuggets to requesting scrambled eggs and tacos. Around 1,500 students have completed the Cooking Autism course in the last two years and have left better prepared for the future.