Syracuse University graduate Amanda Savitzky’s thesis project, known as “The Match Cooking Prep System for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder” (ASD), has not only been a successful personal journey for her family, but has also seen her awarded the top prize in the 2013 Metropolis Next Generation Competition. Her Match Cooking Prep System is designed to provide practical tools that assist in enabling someone with ASD to learn how to cook.

Whilst majoring in Industrial Design and Psychology, designer Amanda Savitzky drew upon her experience as a sibling of someone with ASD to devise the Match system that consists of measuring cups, prep bowls and an iPad app.

“About a month into my 5th year, I decided on the topic of exploring ways to increase independence for adults with autism” Savitzky told Gizmag. After extensive research, Savitzky focused on the kitchen, recognizing that its requirements for cognitive skills and co-ordination combined with potential for sensory overload make it “the perfect place to try to innovate for people with autism and try to increase independent skills.”

The project focuses on food preparation and creates structure in place of the constant redirection between cupboards and the fridge as you gather ingredients for a person with ASD. Savitzky was inspired by the “Mies En Place” cooking system where everything is gathered on the counter, measured into small bowls and arranged for easy mixing.

The Match bowls are the result of this inspiration; they are numbered and filled according to the recipe prompting the user to follow the sequence. The measuring utensils devised to fill the bowls are designed by color and shape, while the larger sized handles assist with fine motor skills by enabling a more secure palmar grip.

Consulting with Natalie Russo, Professor of Psychology at Syracuse University, Savitzky drew upon the principles of TEACCH for the linear left to right layout of the Match Prep Cooking System design. The TEACCH workstations employ a standardized physical layout that creates structure and routine, two powerful ways to encourage learning for people with autism. Ultimately the Match system aims to support the learner with ASD and their teacher to achieve as much independence as possible.

As a central component to the Match system, an iPad app that takes complex cooking preparation tasks and breaks them down into small steps will be developed in line with the physical products.

“Eventually the goal is to master each step and thus master the entire task," explains Savitzky. "You can think of a box mix of pancakes as a task analysis for 'neurotypical' people. For someone with autism you need much more detailed steps like 'wash hands' and where to find the ingredients. Things we would just intuitively know ourselves need to be explicitly stated.”

The app will enable users to divide recipes into the following tasks: gather, measure, combine and prep. This task analysis is turned into a visual slide show that can be customized with familiar images from individual kitchens. The design of the app takes recipe measurements such as “1 cup” and displays them as per the corresponding Match system measuring cup symbol, i.e. red pentagon.

Whilst similar visual slideshow recipe books and apps are available, the project research recognizes a resource gap for people with ASD that has meant that in addition to her recent award, Savitzky has received positive feedback from the autism community for her thesis. The next steps for the Match Cooking Prep System will be to use a crowd-funding site to further develop the product with the aim to keep it simple and affordable.

The video below highlights the Match Cooking Prep System in use.

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