Breakfast as an Autism Metaphor: gingerbread and expectations…

I had this wonderful idea – a plan. I would get up way earlier than Craig today and I would make him gingerbread pancakes as a surprise. I read a recipe or two – so I had an idea of how to do it and roughly what I should be aiming for… and then in typical fashion (or perhaps not),  I leaped and took it in my own direction.

It was a little bit messy – but creative, and I am one of those who believe that sometimes messy gets you where you need to be. I do not know if I would naturally have come to this point, but parenting, advocating, and living the life I do has put me on the fast track for this kind of learning. I have sometimes wondered if being the mom of H has put me on the mindful path of a student of Zen Buddhism.

I wanted Craig to know how much I appreciate him and the wonderful work he does with H. However, as I was working my way thought the process another idea began to unfold. I was thinking about the way we often have a plan for creating a better situation for a child or to assist them in gaining skills or increasing social cognition.

A bit of this and a bit of that: I often work with teachers and families to plan for the needs of Autistic students. I tell them that it is okay if whatever it is we try doesn’t work, or if it only works for a little while, or in a particular situation, or with a particular person. At times the plan may seem like it is making things worse, because all of us respond to the world around us with our behaviour and actions. When what we usually do to make our way (our usual response) is not working, the natural reaction is to increase or intensify what we usually do.  This is the same for children on the autism spectrum. Sometimes the indication that we have a plan that will ultimately be effective is that the behaviour or response we are hoping to affect, may in fact appear to be worsening.  This must be balanced with pragmatic observation however, and a willingness to alter and change the plan. I say something like: If this doesn’t work – we will try something else. This is our plan for now and we will continue to adjust it. I don’t have all the answers, none of us do. What counts is that we are asking the questions and we are looking for approaches that are effective and are a match for the needs of this child.

My gingerbread pancakes were looking pretty good, although the batter seemed a bit too thick. I adjusted it by adding more liquid. I was sooo pleased. It seemed as though everything was working as I had envisioned.

I was imagining Craig’s reaction and also anticipating the taste. I had never eaten gingerbread pancakes. Honestly, until last night I had never even imagined them. I sprinkled them with sugar while they were in the pan. I started with brown sugar – but that didn’t look right.

Unfortunately, the sugar in the pan started to caramelize and then burn. I had to stop, wash the pan, and then resume my cooking with the added information: the sugar should be sprinkled on after the pancakes were cooked.

Focus and support: I set the table as I was cooking the rest of the pancakes. When I stepped outside to take our dog Finnegan for his morning business, I  picked a few early garden flowers. I assumed that all was going well on the stove – so I was able to put some of my attention elsewhere.   I was wrong: the little wire thing that sits under the pan had shifted when I wasn’t noticing, and the next batch was considerably more brown than desirable.

The water was set to boil for the caffeine fix that fuels Craig and I most days. A certain unnamed bystander was hopefully anticipating that he could enjoy the spoils of my miscalculation or inattention. He knew from experience that if he waited long enough, and patiently enough, there might be a bit of a nice-tasting something for him.

When all was prepared, I called the boys to the table. H tried the gingerbread pancakes but didn’t like them, he had a sip of milk and  one strawberry, and then headed off to pursue his own agenda.

My pancake experience was like a microcosm of the rest of my world. Plans can be made – but they need constant adjustment. Sometimes they turn out – sometimes not. Perhaps not everyone will like or appreciate the outcome. Craig loved the breakfast and we chatted over coffee, talked about plans for the day, and laughed at H’s strawberry head antics.



30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
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2 Responses to Breakfast as an Autism Metaphor: gingerbread and expectations…

  1. A lovely post and the metaphor is cool. I make pancakes every Sunday from a recipe that is stuck in my memory. Today I wanted to try pumpkin pancakes for a change. Neither kid wanted to try them and I thought that might be the case, but if I didn’t try them I wouldn’t know. It’s a little like accepting that if we don’t start somewhere with our kids then we’ll never know what they are capable of.


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Jim 🙂

      Sometimes it is easy to feel stuck – sort of like – “PLEASE – don’t move the furniture!!” I think this is especially true for those of us who parent children that struggle with transitions and change. I find I have to remind myself sometimes to give a gentle nudge to H and also myself. You are right, I think, with your statement about “starting somewhere with our kids” or else “we’ll never know what they are capable of…” There is a balance, isn’t there, of creating that safe and comfortable place for our children and encouraging new adventures – whether it is pancakes, a new destination, or ???


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