April is Autism Awareness Month, and one mom in Central New York thinks we can do better than awareness. She believes the next step is acceptance.
Christina Van Ditto Warter is leading a baking class for kids. She makes the recipes alongside the kids, and she does it inside of her home with a studio that she setup.
Today’s recipe is cake pops. Her assistant chef is her 5-year-old daughter Gia. Gia is on the autism spectrum, so making food can be overwhelming -- the taste the feeling, the smell -- it can be a sensory overload.
So Christina started looking for a program that would fit Gia. She couldn’t find one, so she made her own, S.A.M.E.
Christina’s business, S.A.M.E., stands for Soul And Mind Evolution, and offers classes in caregiver coaching, inclusive dance and more.
“Gia really was the catalyst to it and just trying to find a place for her and our family," said Van Ditto Warter.
Christina’s classes are open to any children of any ability level. Her classes are a place where every kid is treated the same, even on Zoom. After class, it’s time for lunch, and that looks exactly the same every day for Gia. It’s part of her sensitivity to smells and new tastes.
“This is what she eats; she eats this [sweet potato] and she eats actually a green bean blend, and I think we could buy stock in it. I wouldn’t have imagined I would have a 5-year-old eating baby food, but it’s essentially just puree," said Van Ditto Warter.
But Christina challenges Gia every day with something new.
“Even just having a new food on the same plate can be really difficult," she said.
Another reason for her eating the same thing every day is the need for predictability. That’s part of the reason why, every day, her mom makes a list of everything that’s going to happen so she knows exactly what to expect.
“You know, it’s not enough to be aware. We need to embrace everyone, we need to practice inclusion, practice kindness, practice empathy," said Van Ditto Warter.