Teach healthy living skills to adults with autism

by Community Support Services, Inc.

Thanks to support from donors like you, we’ve been able to expand our Salad Class since we first wrote about it in January. With new classes we’ve been able to reach out to more individuals and have seen some remarkable changes in eating habits both in and out of the classrooms! Yesterday, for the first time, one participant happily made himself a salad AND ate it! Six months ago he wouldn’t even stay in the kitchen for the duration of the class and now we're not only participating, but enjoying it too!

In addition to the number of classes, we’ve been able to add even more salad choices and have created some one on one classes for those that need it the individualized attention. We’ve been able to buy more specialized tools for those that have difficulty with the dexterity needed to chop their own vegetables. And most importantly, we’ve been able to give everyone the time and encouragement they need.

We will continue our program and reach out as we can afford to do so. Donations make this initiative possible. Thank you so much for helping us change lifestyles one carrot at a time! 

grating the zucchini
grating the zucchini

This time of year gardens tend to produce an overabundance of one vegetable or another, and in this region we start to see more zucchini than most people usually know what to do with. But in our creative kitchen Chef Adam knows that zucchini is simply a great opportunity to introduce more healthy foods into our diet!

Narrow eating habits are reported in over seventy percent of those on the autism spectrum. And while it’s okay to simply not like some foods (most of us have foods we don’t like!) we do want to encourage healthy eating choices. Which brings us to this week’s recipe – Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes!

 It may sound strange at first, but adding zucchini to our sweet baked goods keeps them delectably moist. By adding vegetables in friendly vehicles like chocolate cupcakes, we build familiarity and positive associations. Individuals start to think of zucchini as something fun and not something scary!



  • 2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar or low calorie sweetener
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¾ cup olive oil or apple puree
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 ½ to 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Grease & flour a muffin tin
  2. In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Break up any lumps and mix until evenly combined.
  3. In a separate mixing bowl combine the oil, water, zucchini and vanilla. Add this to the dry ingredients, stirring until no traces of flour remain.
  4. Pour into prepared muffin pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. This recipe makes about 24 muffins.
Mixing the batter
Mixing the batter
Ready for the oven!
Ready for the oven!
Untilled earth waiting to be cultivated.
Untilled earth waiting to be cultivated.

We had a long winter this year in Maryland. Schools were closed, roads were terrible, schedules were askew, and even worse, now we are now a month behind in our planting season!

Here at Community Support Services we maintain five community garden plots and each plot takes a lot of work to get ready for planting.  This year we are working with new plots and have to start our ground cultivation from the beginning. The dirt was hard but everyone persevered because we needed to start getting our seedlings in the ground!

First the ground was tilled. A tiller had to be rented every time which was one more cost in our budget.  Then we laid a mix of organic soil and fertilizer on the tilled earth before covering it with a weed block fabric. And then it was finally time to plant!

Our first crops making it to the gardens are Lacinato kale, collards, and onions. But we have a lot more waiting in our greenhouse to be planted! This weekend we began planting in our home gardens. It’s going to be a vegetable rich summer for everyone!

Every dollar contributed to our project makes a difference. Several of our garden tools are old and starting to break but we are still putting our broken trowels to good use.  This is the time of year to help us expand our backyard garden program. We hope to increase the number of raised beds so that more individuals with autism have the opportunity to grow their own vegetables. With your help we’ll be able to grow more than ever before!

A garden plot finally ready for planting!
A garden plot finally ready for planting!
Everyone enjoys a sunny morning in the garden.
Everyone enjoys a sunny morning in the garden.
Planting kale!
Planting kale!
A broken trowel still digs!
A broken trowel still digs!
Shoveling mulch to lay bed and path foundations.
Shoveling mulch to lay bed and path foundations.

Introducing new foods and skills through healthy cooking

We all know a picky eater. Many of us have friends that are impossible to cook for and we’ve all heard stories of children who refuse to eat anything that isn’t orange. These traits often become more pronounced when someone is on the autism spectrum. Up to seventy percent of children on the spectrum have narrow eating habits making it a challenge for families and caregivers to expand food choices.

CSS has a new Salad Group which utilizes independent input and decisions while broadening the list of “good” vegetables that individuals want to eat. This group is composed of individuals with developmental disabilities including autism. Many members of the class used to dislike vegetables but now they all enjoy not only making their salads but eating them too.

Every week there is a new vegetable to try that is not part of the salad. This week it’s cherry tomatoes. Each taster gets the opportunity to taste and vote with their picture if they like or dislike the vegetable. Everyone likes the chance to put their vote on the board and they see that their choice matters. All but one group member decides that cherry tomatoes are good.

Ingredient lists are handed to every group member at the beginning of class. The week before each person picked out items for their salads and will now use these ingredients to truly make their unique salad. Based on this list they then choose what they’d like to cut first. The knives are made out of special blunt nylon material that will not accidentally cut skin but still easily cuts vegetables with a sawing motion. By using a safe knife more people can participate fully. Every step of the way is a choice for the individual. No vegetable or task is forced on anyone. No one is ever told they must eat something or that they need to hurry up. By giving the opportunity to decide for oneself, an individual becomes involved and interested in participating. Group members became invested in their salad creations

Initially, when the class first met, there were a few individuals that refused to even chop any vegetables using the safe knives. After a few weeks even the most reluctant began to enjoy cutting up the vegetables for their salad.

Everybody’s salad is different giving each salad artist the opportunity to express himself. On top of flavor, much of a salad is texture and color. Each salad becomes a work of art that many people appreciate. After the class others enjoy dropping by to eat the leftovers, sampling one or several salads. This increases vegetable exposure beyond the salad group itself. Individuals who normally won’t eat salads are excited to visit the kitchen for a chance to taste the creations.

At the end of each class, each participant picks out the ingredients to go into their salad for the following week. As ingredients vary so do the salads. Joey says his salad is good this week, but he thinks next week he’d like to try a different dressing. Everyone leaves happy with what they’ve made and looks forward to the next week and the chance to do it again.

Having friends over for dinner is a time-honored tradition, and it’s no different here at Community Support Services. It’s not just a meal; it’s an event that gives individuals a chance to strengthen social interactions in a safe environment.

Dinner groups meet regularly at the CSS kitchen, but they also bring the fun into their own homes. Friends take turns having each other over, preparing and hosting the meals.

The planning begins earlier in the week, when individuals discuss possible meal options with their staff. While favorite meals can take precedence, dinner group offers the opportunity to introduce new options to guests. The individuals use what they can from the CSS gardens, and plan a trip to the grocery for the rest.

Eating in a group is a great time to work on table manners. Practicing meal etiquette with friends allows individuals to build on their skill sets, which they carry beyond the group into other meals and social interactions.

Bringing dinner group into the homes is a chance for individuals to fine-tune the life skills they are learning at CSS, building the confidence to do the same when they are out in the community and having fun with friends at the same time!



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Organization Information

Community Support Services, Inc.

Location: Gaithersburg, MD - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.css-md.org
Project Leader:
Ashley Chatneuff
Communications Coordinator
Gaithersburg, MD United States
$21,966 raised of $30,000 goal
249 donations
$8,035 to go
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