Autism Answer – Easy Lasagne (low texture)

Yummy and Healthy Lasagne

ASD friendly Lasagne

This new recipe  was a breakthrough moment for me. The last two years have largely (by necessity) revolved around food from the point of view of food allergies and nutrition. I’m now finding myself needing to go a step further and think about recipes from a sensory point of view. Getting Miss 3 to eat meat and protein is an ongoing challenge; her soy allergy alone (especially because it extends to emulsifiers and vegetable oil) mean that I can hardly take her to a McDonalds in desperation and order her a cheeseburger. The secret to this recipe is minimising textures (and a food processor!)

She has until now mostly refused to eat mince (of various flavours and in various forms) although sometimes I’ll get lucky. She quite liked the process of making the Chinese Pork Koftas and it helped that I’ve found a soy & preservative free plum dipping sauce. I was over the moon when she actually ate this and asked for more!

Oh, and to any Italians reading this – I apologise. This recipe is not so much lasagne as it is one of those movies ‘inspired’ by a true life story. I know it would make the judges on MasterChef squirm but the main thing for me is getting a whole pile of nutrition into us simply and easily.

Easy Lasagne

Ingredients

  • 500g beef mince
  • Rice bran oil (for cooking)
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt
  • Onion flakes
  • Tomato Passata (400ml)
  • 1 x carrot (grated)
  • Bunch of silverbeet (finely chopped)
  • 400g tin of brown lentils (washed and drained)
  • Dry sheets of lasagna (as many as needed)
  • Parmesan cheese (grated)
  • Tasty or Colby cheese (grated)

Allergies: gluten free*, soy free, egg free, nut free.

Where’s the milk you say? I didn’t make a Bechamel sauce for this recipe for two reasons. One:  she had a sensory anxiety attack at the supermarket (damn those refridgeration unit motors!) so I had to abandon the shop and didn’t get the milk I needed. Two: sometimes when shooting for the stars, you need to aim for the moon first. I was concerned about having three different tastes / textures in a single dish.

Why not use fresh onion and garlic? Because she doesn’t like them (I do). If you’ve ever watched an adult with an aversion to onion try to remove each individual slippery sliver from their plate then you know it’s sometimes better to find a compromise and not sweat the small stuff.

How do I make this gluten free? There are gluten free lasagne sheets available (although they are pricey). For instance, Explore Cuisine do an Organic Green Lentil Lasagne.

Directions

  1. Brown the mince in a frying pan (or electric wok) with a little oil + garlic, salt, and onion.
  2. Add the tomato passata, carrot, silverbeet, and lentils. Simmer for 20-30 minutes on a low heat. Stir as needed.
  3. Grate in some parmesan cheese to taste.
  4. Let this very non-traditional beef ragu cool down for a bit and then blitz it in a food processor. It doesn’t need to be a smooth paste but it should become much more evenly textured (as seen in the photo).
  5. Layer the mince mix in your favourite lasagne dish (or dishes) alternating mince, the pasta sheets, grated cheese. Note: for the top layer of (dry) pasta you may want to add a few tablespoons of water every 10 minutes or so during cooking.
  6. Bake at 160’C for 3-40 minutes. Basically, you’re cooking the pasta and heating the mince. If you’re using a fresh pasta then it will probably cook quicker.

 

Tip: I liked the cheesy crunchy pasta topping and the textural difference on my plate of having both that and the soft pasta. Depending on the textural / sensory preferences of your ASD child, you may want to serve just one of those. I gave Miss 3 the soft pasta and the mince.

 

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Mass Consumerism and the Endless Quest for the New

Mass Consumerism: New and Shiny!

New and Shiny!

I’m drafting this at 3.30am in the morning. I’m sitting in pyjamas with my daughter curled up next to me, laptop on my knees, lamplight casting a low glow to contrast the light of the tv; ‘Magic School Bus‘ is teaching us about viral invaders. It sounds all warm and cosy; it is…. except it’s 3.30am in the morning!

Don’t get me wrong, Miss 3 is a crap sleeper but tonight (and the night before) isn’t because of her health concerns. We’re awake because yet another nappy company decided to get on the train of ‘New and Improved!’, ‘All New Look!’, ‘Amazing New Technology!’. I could give two shakes of a rat’s tail for their heavy use of the word ‘new’; what I want in nappies is a reliable steadfast product that works. I have enough sleep deprivation in my life without needing to spend time in the supermarket re-evaluating nappy brands.

It’s not that long since popular nappy company Treasures changed their design causing an uproar amongst parents that eventually moved from social media parenting platforms to the mainstream news. I watched with interest (and respect) as one determined mother took our concerns to the news outlets and with our permission shared our crappy experiences (pun intended).

Now another nappy company, Kiddicare, has decided to follow suit and change their design to a dramatically new look that is eerily similar in look to the new design Treasures nappies. Their website claims “Our new five layer ultra-thin absorbent inner core made from hi-tech fibre makes for a better performing nappy.” Their ‘breakthrough technology’ and ‘non traditional materials’ are presumably meant to attract additional customers and justify a price increase.

The reality is that their old nappies worked. They were well priced and effective which is all I actually want in a nappy. I have had countless leaks from the new ultra-thin nappies during both day and night. Tonight I tried double layering the nappies and her pants; they still leaked (despite her only having a few sips of water before bed!) and I was woken yet again by her feeling cold and chilled in the middle of the night. I’ve already complained to the company (firing off an email at 2.30am yesterday) but that still leaves me having paid for a large box of nappies that have no functional purpose.

I’m frustrated and tired (and regretting that mug of coffee now) by lack of sleep and needing to strip bed sheets in the middle of the night. My ASD daughter does not sleep easily and is very routine focused. To her wake up time means a bottle of formula and cartoons; I know from experience that she will be awake for several hours before I have a chance of easing her into a nap. If I’m super lucky I can sometimes get her back to sleep when she wakes during the night but not once I’ve had to change clothes and sheets.

The question arises why multiple nappy companies are feeling the need to change their design in the first place (and why they haven’t done more product testing before release!). One can only assume it’s because they feel the need to dangle something new and shiny in front of consumers to attract their attention (like we’re nothing more than magpies indiscriminately collecting anything from tinfoil to gold watches) and have forgotten that their core purpose should be deliver something that works. I wish they would instead go with the maxim of ‘If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it’ and instead focus on aesthetics. Why can’t they just release limited edition runs of new prints with collectible cards inside the packs? Tell me all about the wonders of pandas and leopards with accompanying cute prints but have the nappies actually work!

How to make an easy and cheap instrument at playgroup (Musical Maracas)

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

Making musical maracas

What you need

  • Paper plates (small).
  • Felts, crayons, paint, stickers etc.
  • Wooden beads, sea shells, bells etc.
  • Stapler.

Directions

  1. Help your children to decorate the outside of the plates (don’t forget to write their names on!).
  2. Fold the plate in half (like an empanada) and staple along the edges. Leave a gap at the top.
  3. Hold it upright with the gap at the top. Help your children to drop beads, bells, shells etc. inside their musical instrument; one big toddler sized handful will be about enough.
  4. Staple up the gap, put on some music, and shake!

Note: This is a great activity to do on a rainy day or with a playgroup. For younger toddlers choose larger items to put inside and play with under supervision only; i.e. keep choking hazards in mind.

How to save money and freshen clothes naturally! Pre-soaking laundry using baking soda.

Replace chemical cleaners with a natural and cheap laundry soaking solution!

Replace chemical cleaners with a natural and cheap laundry soaking solution!

Miss 2 has really sensitive skin (and eczema) which means that I’ve needed to look around for non-chemical options for the laundry pre-soak bucket. Funnily enough, sometimes it’s the mid-range brands of ‘Oxygenated Whiteners’ or ‘Nappy Soakers’, which claim to be environmentally friendly and ‘natural’, which cause her to react more. Of course they’re still packed with chemicals and I know it’s just a marketing ploy but it’s easy to want to believe them!

Turns out all I needed was a 1/2 cup baking soda (bicarbonate of soda) dissolved in warm water (a couple of litres half fills my soak bucket). It helps to freshen and soak laundry (and keep it smell free) before it goes in the washing machine.

Tip: Rinse laundry first and handscrub any stubborn stains. Create a paste using four tablespoons of baking soda and ¼ cup of water. After working the paste thoroughly into the stains, apply a little undiluted vinegar.

Tip: Don’t add white vinegar to the soak bucket. Baking soda (base) + white vinegar (acid) will largely cancel each other out and reduce effectiveness. Instead, add white vinegar during the rinse cycle (instead of fabric softener or an anti-bacterial agent) and line dry in the sun if you can.  Vinegar will help to soften hard water, reduce odours, and reduce bugs. Sunlight will also help (especially if you’re washing cloth nappies!)

Winter Crafts: Painting Leaves

A wonderful winter activity can be going for a walk through the woods or local park and talking about how the trees change with the seasons (and how some don’t!).

Collect some leaves and pine cones on your walk and take them home to dry.

Tip: Putting then on newspaper or a towel in the hot water cupboard works well.

Once the leaves are dry they make a wonderful canvas for painting. Again, they dry well in the hot water cupboard and can be hung up for a few days as decorations.

Tip: You could try spraying them with varnish to help them last longer.

Jungle Stories by Miss Almost-3

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle a bird flew through the air singing “Tweet, tweet, tweet”. It went to a beautiful waterfall for a drink of water but SPLOOSH an elephant shot water out if it’s nose (trunk) and got it all wet to be silly. The birdy told the elephant a joke. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a crocodile and some fishes swimming in the river. The crocodile was very hungry so he ate the fishes, SNAP. his tummy was very full and he was happy. BURP. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a giraffe. He stretched his long neck up and ate the juicy leaves. YUM. They went through his tummy and he did a big poop out his anus. The end.

Once upon a time in the very noisy jungle there was a snake. She went round and round in the warm sun. She says Sss to her FRIENDS, the butterflies. She has a nice cup of tea and reads a book. Then elephant, giraffe, crocodile, and monkey come over for tea. They have a party and give her presents. The end.
Haha she cracks me up! She’s also going through the phase where she LOVES talking about body parts, wee, poo, and farts. What stories do your kids tell you?

Making playdough insects (portable playgroup fun!)

Playdough and straw caterpillar

Making playdough insects

Why not spend a rainy afternoon making homemade playdough and designing your own insects (or animals, or monsters!). It’s a cheap activity that’s also easily transportable to playgroup. Younger toddlers will have fun pushing the legs in and pulling them out again; preschoolers will have fun making their designs happen. Think about putting out some library picture books to help give them ideas!

What you 

  • Playdough (try making your own!)
  • Straws
  • Scissors
  • Knife (bamboo or wooden ones are great!)
  • Optional: Googly eyes (from craft stores)

How to make easy bracelets and crowns for kids

How to make easy bracelets and crowns for kids

How to make easy bracelets and crowns for kids

Kids are so wonderfully creative! There are lots of kit-sets for crafts at toy stores but it’s often much cheaper to visit a craft store or emporium.

All you need to make a crown, necklace, or bracelet is some pretty pipe cleaners, beads, and imagination! They’re a great activity for birthday parties, playgroups, and rainy days.

Fun things to do with beads!

Fun things to do with beads!

Make sure that you choose beads (or bells) with large enough holes for the pipe cleaners to feed through. Younger kids will need active supervision and assistance but by 4 years they’ll be shaking you off 🙂 You’ll also find they start coming up with their own ideas like making swords or funny glasses or monster crowns!

Warning: This isn’t suitable for babies and young toddlers due to small parts and choking hazards. Make sure young children are old enough to follow instructions and will not put beads in their mouths.

Bedazzling bags (rainy day crafts)

Bedazzling bags (rainy day crafts)

Bedazzling bags (rainy day crafts)

This is a great way to pass a rainy day – especially since a trip to the craft store will take up time as well! It’s also a fun activity for playgroups!

What do I need?

This is really up to your imagination!

  • Coloured paper bags
  • Glue (You may need a mix of paste, PVA, and a glue gun depending on what you’re using)
  • Wooden clips
  • Scissors
  • Buttons, sequins, stickers, fabric, wooden beads etc!

Directions

Play around with your materials to find a look that you like and start gluing!

These have wooden ladybugs hot-glued to the wooden clips. The flower is layered; there are plastic petals glued to the bag and then a fabric flower glued on top of that.

What are turbinates and why do they need surgery to reduce them? (Are you sleeping badly? This may be why!)

What do swollen turbinates look like

What do swollen turbinates look like

If you’ve never heard of turbinates before then you’re not the only one! As long as they’re working well then the subject is unlikely to ever come up; they are also not something that your regular doctor (GP) is able to review – finding out there’s a problem first requires a referral to an Ears Nose Throat (ENT) specialist because of the symptoms you are experiencing.

Your turbinates can have a surprisingly large impact on your quality of sleep; this is especially true in young children and the problems are even more exacerbated if they also have troubles with their ears, adenoids, and tonsils.

What are turbinates?

Turbinates are bony structures (covered in moist tissue called the nasal mucous membrane). Inside your nose there are three sets of turbinates: upper (superior), the middle, and the lower (inferior).

Lateral nasal airway

Lateral Nasal Airway: Turbinates, Adenoids, Eustachian Tube Opening

Why do we need turbinates? What do turbinates do?

The turbinates have several important functions:

  • Help warm and moisturize air as it flows through the nose.
  • Protect the openings into your paranasal sinuses.
  • Help create airflow through your nose (important for your sense of smell!).
  • Trap micro-organisms (like viruses) and pollutants (like pollen).
  • Help the voice to resonate (i.e. they affect how we sound).
  • Produce mucous to help clean out the nose and assist the cilia in their work.
  • Help to regulate pressure in the sinuses.
  • Help the nose and sinus cavities to drain.
  • The turbinates play an important mechanical function when we sleep.  When you sleep on the right side, with the right turbinate down, over time the right turbinate fills up with fluid and expands so that it pushes against the septum; this makes you turn on the left side until that side fills up and turns you again. If the turbinates are not functioning correctly then you may wake up feeling cramped and sore with achey muscles.
Turbinates and sinus cavities

Feeling the pressure? Healthy turbinates help regulate pressure and drainage of the sinus cavities.

What causes turbinates to swell?

One of the most common causes of swollen turbinates (turbinate hypertrophy) are airborne allergies (allergic rhinitis) such as grass or weed pollen, birch tree pollen, or dust mites.

Other causes can include repeat upper respiratory infections, hormones, drugs, medication (i.e. as a complication from long-term nasal spray use).

Healthy inferior turbinate

Healthy inferior turbinate – you can see quite clearly that there is a tunnel for air to flow freely past the turbinates.

Swollen turbinates

Swollen turbinates – you can see how they have swollen and are bulging out across the airway to the nasal septum.

What are the possible side effects of swollen turbinates?

  • Stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Facial Pain
  • Pressure (often in forehead). In young children this may result in behavioural issues, trouble concentrating, or head banging.
  • Nasal drip
  • Loss of Sense of Taste and/or Smell
  • Mouth breathing, noisy breathing, and/or snoring. This is especially problematic if adenoids and/or tonsils are also swollen and obstructive sleep apnea develops.
  • Fatigue. Children might seem like they’re getting enough hours of sleep but in reality the quality of sleep is poor because their body is struggling to get enough oxygen through the night. It’s a bit like starting each day on a half tank of gas.
  • Sore, cramped, achey muscles in the morning. Healthy turbinates play an important mechanical function when we sleep; they are key to helping us unconsciously change which side we are sleeping on through the night.
  • Developmental delays. Sleep is critical for young children. During those early years, they are rapidly growing and learning. They need sleep to focus during the day; to have time for their brain to make connections between all the things they have learned or experienced; and their brain releases a growth hormone while they sleep. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can make it harder for them to stay on track.
  • Behavioural difficulties. Poor sleep, fatigue and pain/discomfort, trouble hearing: these can result in daily misery that children don’t know how to express.

Why do turbinates need surgery?

An Ears Nose Throat (ENT) specialist will be able to examine the interior of the nose quickly and painlessly during outpatient appointments; they may also opt for imaging scans such as x-ray or CT.

It is likely that they will suggest trying non-invasive means initially to see if this reduces the swelling, This is likely to involve a steroidal nasal spray and anti-histamine medication (in the case of allergic rhinitis). They may also recommend additional saline spray / drops to help keep the nose irrigated, or using a humidifier.

If these options do not work an symptoms have not been alleviated then they are likely to recommend surgery. Note: it is important that turbinates are reduced (not removed) and they will slowly regrow; in order for them not to become swollen again, any other underlying issues must still be addressed.

What does turbinate reduction surgery (turbinoplasty) involve?

Turbinates perform highly important functions and removing them entirely can cause a raft of new issues; surgeons will normally opt to reduce the turbinates. There are different methods that can be used; some remove tissue and others aim to shrink them through other means.

A procedure called submucosal resection is a common technique used to treat enlarged turbinates. With this procedure, the lining of the turbinate is left intact, but the “stuffing” from the inside of the turbinate is removed. As the turbinate heals, it will be much smaller than before surgery. Sometimes, this resection can be performed with a device called a microdebrider. This device allows the surgeon to remove the “stuffing” through a small opening in the turbinate. In some instances, more of the turbinate is removed.

Some of these methods shrink the turbinates without removing the turbinate bone or tissue. These methods include cauterization, coblation, and radiofrequency reduction. In each of these methods, a portion of the turbinate is heated up with a special device. Over time, scar tissue forms in the heated portion of turbinate, causing the turbinate to shrink in size.

Turbinoplasty is generally an outpatient procedure performed under general anaesthetic and patients can go home the same day.

Want to find out more about surgery or risks? The American Rhinologic Society has useful information.

What happens after surgery?

You can expect to have pain, fatigue, nasal stuffiness, and a clear fluid nasal discharge for several days after surgery. If this was the only surgery being performed then pain is generally mild  and typically well controlled with pain medications. A saline spray and/or steroidal nasal spray are likely to be recommended to use for several weeks after the surgery.

Swelling as a result of the procedure means that there may still be snoring for a week or two after the surgery, as well as a general feeling of stuffiness. The fluid discharge will generally begin to improve and crust after the first week.

Patients may be off school or work for a week and are recommended to avoid strenuous activity for two to three weeks afterwards.