Teaching your dyspraxic child how to master their cutlery starts with their posture and seating position, this affects the way they eat as much as the cutlery they use:
- Being comfortable to eat is very important to a dyspraxic – often eating can be a tiring process, trying to eat whilst slipping around on a chair therefore becomes an even bigger challenge.
- Posture: Feet should be flat on the floor and so you may need to put some phone books under their feet. The chair must be supportive and not slippy.
- Use a sheet of Dycem
under their bottoms or if they are slouching at the table then look at a Gymnic movin’ sit cushion which aids posture and also calms children with ADHD and Sensory challenges.
- The chair height must be appropriate for the table height (The Gymnic cushion helps to raise them up nicely).
- Once they are sitting comfortably provide them with a wet face cloth so that if they are sensitive to touching food they can wipe it off straight away, have a little plate to the side so that if something offends them in the extreme they can remove it from their main plate and in some cases they may want to cover it over with their face cloth and pretend it’s not there.
- Pop a little piece of Dycem under your child’s plate/bowl to stop them slipping around the table – again, looking for ways all the time to reduce the effort your child is needing to put in to eat.
How to teach your dyspraxic child to hold and use their cutlery:
Practise away from meal times to get started.
- Begin by using a knife only, no fork. Ideally start on a flat chopping board and as skills progress put the playdoh roll onto a plate and practise some more that way. Encourage your child to hold the knife with the first finger resting on top of the knife (mark the point with Tippex).
- Make a roll in playdoh, hold the roll with one hand just beside where the cut is to be made, keeping the fingers a safe distance from the knife. Have your child place the knife on the roll beside their other hand (sensible distance from fingers!) and have them cut through the roll. Practice putting the knife down in-between cuts so that they can successfully find their grip each time, repeat until 5-6 cuts have been made. Cut with the knife using a sawing action – not the stab and drag that many Dyspraxics prefer. Once knife cutting (sawing) is mastered it’s time to introduce the fork.
- Again, demonstrate how to hold the fork with their pointer resting on top of the fork (mark with Tippex). Say to them that their fork is going to do the work that their hand did when they held the food when practising knife work. The fork will allow their hands to stay clean and prevent them from cutting their fingers (it all needs explaining to our Dyspraxic kids). Again with a Playdoh roll etc. ask your child to pick up only the fork and have them push it into the roll near to where they want to make their first cut. Holding the roll still with their fork have them pick up their knife and saw cut through the piece. Make longer rolls which will provide more cutting practise, returning the cutlery each time to ensure they have the grip mastered. Once you have progressed to a plate place a little Dycem under the plate to keep it from moving.
- First practise with Playdoh, toast, bananas with or without their skins, Plasticine (offers more resistance than Playdoh), cut chocolate bars into chunks then progress to typical lunchtime food for cutting practise – sausages, fish fingers, carrots, chips.
- If you have used specialist dyspraxia Cutlery to master the knife and fork process then I would keep the plasticine practise going but offer a range of different knives and get them used to other cutlery too so that after a while they can switch away from the supportive cutlery and use the school cutlery like every one else. It might be an idea to ask the school to borrow a set of their cutlery for practise at home.
Choosing The Best Cutlery for children with Dyspraxia
- Doddl cutlery – I especially love their knife for learning to cut
through food. Their cutlery encourages the pincer grip which will help develop the grip for handwriting in later years. Just launched in the UK. For children with smaller hands, ages 12 months+
- Fantastic Dyspraxic’s Children’s Dyspraxia Cutlery, good
ergonomic design with ‘wells’ for fingers to rest correctly into, not too heavy. Features a really effective cutting blade. For ages 3+ to around the age of 12.
- Skill trainer witty eating spoon – excellent grip you can put onto any spoon to teach correct grip for using a spoon. For ages 2 – 7 years. For left and right handers. It’s shape is specially designed to permit only one possible finger position which extremely cushioned and comfortable for our sensitive kids.
- Cleverstix training chopsticks for kids – we are getting some
great feedback on this product from dyspraxic children, OT’s and schools: For ages 3-10 (older for Dyspraxics). They train the correct grip, actually develop the hand writing grip, improve motor skills and make meal times more fun. A friend of mine bought a pair for her daughter and gave her a pencil to write with afterwards, she went straight for a tripod grip hold on the pencil! She is only young, 6 years old, but managed to use them from the get go.
- Older children: Sporks (they are a spoon, fork and knife combined permitting you to carry out all the action with one hand, the well in the spork allows you to transfer food (especially peas) from plate to mouth without dropping it halfway along, I know a few teenage dyspraxics who keep these in their school bags for use in the school canteen.)
- Adult Kura Care Cutlery – again, good ergonomically but as they get older, may be a little too visual and embarrassing to use in public, or take them into a cook shop and have them pick their own cutlery – they will tell you straight away what is best for them.
With regular use of an ergonomic set of cutlery your child should begin to master the skills to enable them to transition to any type of cutlery. I would never dive in with new cutlery – grab the playdoh and really play with the cutlery away from the table, cook loads of toast and have him/her cut it up and feed it to you or themselves etc. Remember, it has to be on their terms – lay the range of cutlery out that you have allowing your child to decide which is easiest for them.
Thoughts and tips…
- When children find the oral process of eating tiring and difficult to coordinate, we then add mastering cutlery to the mix at the same time. You’re probably already with me on this – overwhelmed. What we need to remember is that the important thing is for our children to eat and at no time must we put so much pressure on them that they no longer want to eat.
- Practise cutlery and oral/eating skills away from the dinner table so that dining with the family remains a pleasant and positive experience no matter how much food gets splattered on them and the room. Source some clear covers for the floor beneath them and have a set of eating TShirts that won’t get ruined with food stains and then you can all relax.
- Encourage your child to cut up their food right at the beginning of the meal before the tiredness sets in.
- Use Tippex on your cutlery to show your child where their first finger should be placed (Peter Pointer) on their knife and fork
- Handedness with cutlery: Oli is right handed but eats/uses his cutlery, like a left hander. Interestingly, in a recent survey, nearly 80% of left handers eat the right-handed way. Some schools are trying to ‘encourage’ children to eat the right-handed way, I have spoken to parents where this has caused anxiety and even stuttering and tics, as soon as they asked the school to let their children eat with their cutlery in their chosen hands the tics, stuttering and anxiety all went away. I would let your child decide which hand holds the knife and fork, especially as ‘handedness’ is one of the red flags for Dyspraxia. Occupational therapists can assist you in understanding the handedness of your child.
- When Oli was younger I bought some velcro fruit and vegetables
that came with a plastic chopping knife to help him to begin to master his knife. It won’t necessarily teach the ‘sawing’ action but it was a good start and fun to do. Engage your children in food prep at home, you might nervously watch over them but they love the ‘risk’ factor of a big sharp knife. Always be totally 100% watching and advising whilst they do this! If you are a bit of a nervous type you can buy really big plastic lettuce knives to give your children the feel of a chopping knife to use on Playdoh or plasticine. The chopping action is different though and will need to be taught. (I’ll put some detail in about this soon: rock from point to end).
- As with everything I write I would always recommend seeing an
OT or speech/language therapist for professional advice. You might be buying cutlery to fix a problem that a few exercises may remedy or it may uncover a bigger picture – for us it was called ‘sensory processing disorder’. Some of the OT’s in the UK have now been trained by Kay Toomey – a specialist in children’s eating problems – you can follow a food school/science programme with them. I also like the book we sell called ‘Just Take A Bite’, it’s one of the only books I’ve found so far that goes beyond addressing ‘picky eaters’. By the way, all you kind-hearted souls who suggest to us already stressed-out parents to starve a child and they will eat – Oli went for 5 days like this and didn’t eat a thing – some don’t! They need our help, they are not spoilt, fussy children (phew – that memory will never go away – had to get that off my chest!).
- We have tried most things and you know, sometimes Oli still comes home from a particularly exhausting day at school and dives into his meal with both hands – sometimes you just need to look away – our dyspraxic kids get enormously tired compared to their peers – a late night meal with a row over using their cutlery correctly might not result in a positive experience for anyone. It’s okay to have a little giggle to yourself when your child stabs a whole Yorkshire pudding with his fork and puts it to his mouth like a gigantic lollipop rather than go through the effort of cutting it.