Regaining confidence through the kitchen
GATEWAYS Support Service’s new Education Around the Table program is helping young people living with a disability to overcome isolation while gaining valuable life skills.
Prior to commencing with E.A.T, Kylie Donovan said a bad experience with another recreational program left her 13-year-old son Sebastian unwilling to have another go.
“He didn’t want to connect with anyone,” she said.
“He was quite anxiety-driven, and he would just lock himself in his room.”
Despite the bad experiences, Ms Donovan came across the E.A.T program online and instantly knew it would be a hit with her young ‘foodie’.
Sebastian, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, often dreams of becoming a chef and opening his own restaurant one day, with Ms Donovan hoping the program would play to her son’s strengths and interests.
“He likes to hit the kitchen with his uncle and make homemade sausages, so I figured let’s try and get him along to a short session and see how he does,” she said.
Ms Donovan recalls it being hard to draw Sebastian out of his room after 2020’s COVID-19 restrictions left her son more isolated than ever as a result of not being able to go to school or attend football matches.
“What I noticed when I went to pick him up is that kids were talking to him and he was talking back and that never really happens,” she said.
“He would talk about the kids during the week and what they had done and the games they played after cooking.
“I thought we might have hit onto something when he called them his friends.”
As part of the fortnightly E.A.T program participants can plan their menu, shop for ingredients, cook and enjoy their meal together.
While being based at the Virginia Todd Centre in Geelong West participants also have the opportunity to play games, get to know each other and develop friendships.
“The fact he is connecting is a big step,” Ms Donovan said.
“He kept repeating that he just felt safe, and that is a huge thing for him to not only feel that but say he felt that way.
“As his mum, it is a relief for me that he may once again start participating in activities on a more regular basis now that he has a feeling of safety and security.”
Since entering the program Sebastian has participated in two other recreational programs during the school holidays and has begun his second E.A.T program.
“I like to cook and I try to be really friendly,” Sebastian said. “I really try to have friends, but it doesn’t work out; but I don’t give up.”
As a result of the E.A.T program Ms Donovan said her son’s enthusiasm had returned and he now looks forward to attending each session.
“It is super important he gets to be himself and not who he thinks people want him to be,” she said.
“Now he has a place where he is accepted and that is so important for all of us, we all need a little connection with community.”