Independent Living Skills and Cognitive Disabilities: Reduce Anxiety, Solve Problems

English: The interior of a microwave oven ‪中文(...

English: The interior of a microwave oven ‪中文(繁體)‬: 微波爐的內部 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cooking at home can be a challenge. To keep it simple, we often think that stocking up with microwave meals is a simple way to be able to have a complete meal. It’s not always that simple.

Microwave Oven vs. Conventional Oven

First of all, most meals have two sets of instructions: Conventional Oven and Microwave Oven. A conventional oven is just the regular oven that is part of the stove. Decide which way you want to heat your meal and then find those instructions.

Cooking Temperature

Second: What temperature do you need to use? For a conventional oven, you will look for a number. For a microwave, you will look for a setting such as low, high, medium, or 50% power.

Cooking Time

Third: How long do you need to cook it? There is often more than one step. Read carefully. If it says half a minute, that is the same as 30 seconds (:30) on the microwave. Do you know the difference between minutes and seconds on the microwave timer? Do you know the difference between hours and minutes on the conventional oven timer? It makes a huge difference. If you guess wrong, you could end up with burned or frozen food.

Special Instructions

Last: Look for other instructions. When a meal contains different foods in the same package, the foods often need special treatment. You might need to remove film from part of the meal, let it stand, stir, rearrange, and so on. Do you know what these words mean? If not, call someone and check. Otherwise, part of your food could be dried up or still frozen when you try to eat it.

TIP: To keep this easy, buy a single item such as one burrito, and add a salad or fresh fruit as your side dishes.


1. Before you start cooking, think of someone you could call in case you run into difficulty. You could even call them before you start and review the cooking instruction together over the phone.
2. Always stay in the kitchen when heating food. Do not leave the room. You need to be there in case the food starts to overcook. You could also forget that you are cooking if you leave the room. If you leave the oven or stove on, you could burn something or start a fire.
3. Use two hot pads or oven mitts when removing hot dishes from an oven.
4. If you burn yourself, run cold water over the burn right away. If the skin gets a blister or bubbles up, call someone for advice on what to do.
5. If something on the stove or in the oven starts smoking, turn off the oven or burner and get help.

Living on your own means cooking for yourself. It gets easier with practice, so keep trying!

(c) 2013 Smart Steps (TM) LLC

Do persons with disabilities commit violent acts? Can persons with mental health issues be productive citizens with satisfying lifestyles? What are some action steps toward a better mental health support system? These and other questions were presented and discussed as part of a U.S. national dialogue in Kansas City, Missouri, on September 21, 2013. Over 300 people gave up their Saturday to participate. See story:

Who’s Talking About Mental Health?

Discussions are taking part across the country in multiple cities: (map found at )

amap_of_community_dialogue_on_mental_health_-_Google_Search or

Mental Health is a Co-Existing Condition for Many Persons with Disabilities

Smart Steps ™ LLC believes that mental health issues are a central issue in our society today, and young adults isolated by technology are the most vulnerable. Individuals in this age group tend to be those who are experiencing increased independence from their family at the same time that mental health issues can arise. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth ages 15-24, higher than car accidents. We as a society need to pay attention and provide supports that reach them in real time and in a more natural manner by addressing the barriers in accessing services.

In addition to the age factor, Smart Steps ™ LLC provides supports to individuals with cognitive disabilities, a category that encompasses a range of disabilities: intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, autism, brain injury, and perhaps aging issues. Many of these individuals experience more than one cognitive disability; it is not unusual for someone with autism, for example, to experience high levels of anxiety or depression. They have an increased chance of having a secondary mental health issue than the general population.

The Community Dialogue as an Empowering, Inclusive Experience 

The dialogue itself was a unique experience. With my teacher lens, I noted carefully-planned, multiple modalities, differentiated activities and individualized accommodations to meet participants’ needs. Upon check-in, we were assigned to a table: no worries or fretting about where to sit. At each table, a facilitator greeted us and provided a clicker to allow each of us to have a voice in this large group dialogue.

Naturally, speaking about personal mental health issues could bring up emotions and a need to express. For those who preferred to draw or write, a mural was available in the back of the room. A separate quiet room was also available with counselors available. Stretch breaks and poetry presentations on mental health and homelessness provided needed variety to the day. A lot of thought was put into making this a positive experience. Below, Zendrix Berndt performs spoken word poetry on the topic of homelessness (twitter pic by Smart Steps (TM), LLC)


To get the day started, we were greeted by Mayor Sly James (Kansas City, Missouri) and Mayor Mark Holland (Kansas City, Kansas). The mayors of Kansas City, Missouri and Kansas City, Kansas could be competitors, each trying to attract companies to their small-but-big-town that sprawls on either side of the state line. In actuality, they seem to be good friends and work together to promote projects to improve their respective cities, Google Fiber being one of the most recent and impactful in terms of encouraging entrepreneurship and internet accessibility. These two forward-thinking mayors collaborated once again to sponsor this dialogue.

Facts about Mental Health

Led by, presenters provided statistical information about mental health. In addition, Kathleen Sebelius made an appearance. As a former Kansas governor, she was returning home to provide encouragement and promise of better health care. To provide some background for discussion, some of the major points made were as follows:

  1. Mental health issues affect 1 in 5 adults each year.
  2. Twenty percent of insurance plans do not cover mental health.
  3. Medicaid dollars are available for each state to cover mental health through Medicaid expansion plans.
  4. Three hundred million days of work are lost due to mental health issues.
  5. Only 3-5% of violent crime is committed by persons with mental illness. This fact is particularly sensitive given the seemingly-increasing news reports about mass shootings.
  6.  Persons with mental health issues can get better with relevant treatment and support.

The Group Has Spoken

Small group discussions at a relaxed, but focused pace, made up the crux of the day. At each table, a recorder forwarded ideas and thoughts via an iPad to the data table for real-time summarizing. This process allowed the data group to quickly summarize results and share them back with the whole group. The entire room then prioritized themes by voting with our handy clickers.

So enough about the experience; what were the outcomes of this dialogue in Kansas City?

Through the skilled use of technology, we were provided the voting results almost immediately. In Kansas City, priorities are:

  • • Reducing the stigma of mental illness
  • • Poverty and mental illness
  • • Fragmentation of services
  • • Trauma and toxic stress
  • • Substance abuse and mental health

The process included more than describing the problems; we also brainstormed strategies. Strategies proposed for youth (ages 12-17)  were:

  • • K-12 curriculum on mental health awareness/skills
  • • Mental health screenings and first aid in schools

Strategies proposed for young adults (ages 18-24) were:

  • • Develop support networks with positive peer models/mentors
  • • Life readiness training (conflict resolution, budgeting, relationships, parenting skills)

Individual Positive Actions

Each person was invited to arrive at a positive action they would take moving forward from this dialogue, and a representative from each table announced his or her intention to the whole room. Actions ranged from intending to make a difference in the lives of one homeless person, continuing the dialogue with fellow counseling students, presenting information to other self-advocates, and for myself, writing a blog about my experience and inviting other participants to share it as a way of increasing awareness.


It was inspirational to take part in a dialogue with people from various points of view, to meet people who have firsthand knowledge and experiences of the problems in our system, and to experience the sense of optimism and camaraderie generated by the applause following each person’s positive action statement.

Will all of the positive actions work? Maybe, maybe not.  As an educator, I would point out that society tends to look at schools to solve all of society’s problems. There’s only so much that children can absorb, and only so many priorities that schools can manage. Other entities can provide awareness and education, such as public libraries, community colleges and universities, and community centers.

We look forward to future reports by the action team. It’s time to upgrade our support system by taking advantage of the ways that technology can make supports more efficient, to provide authentic and engaging ways of providing support, and to care about our neighbors enough to work in a bipartisan fashion. It’s time for reorganization, updating, and efficient but authentic supports that will assist individuals to have more productive and enjoyable lives.

For free community dialogue resources, see:

(c) 2013 Smart Steps (TM) LLC


A lunch sits on a blue tablecloth with a brown...

A lunch sits on a blue tablecloth with a brown paper bag and red napkin. There are carrots, a pear, a sandwich on wheat bread with lettuce (chicken salad) and a carton of milk. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your First Job: Employee Break Room Etiquette

Getting your first job is an exciting, but nervous time, especially the lunch break. You may not know anyone, and if you haven’t spent time in an employee break room before, you might not know the social rules or the etiquette of the break room.  It’s different than at home or at school, so let’s talk about it.

Can I Have a Cupcake?

The main thing to know about the employee break room is to understand what food is okay to eat, and what food you need to leave alone. If you see some cupcakes on the counter, they may or may not be there for you to eat.

People bring or buy their own lunch, and sometimes people bring food to share. Sometimes a big company will have an employee cafeteria where you can buy food. Many businesses will have a refrigerator where employees can put their lunches or treats. It can be confusing to figure out what is free to eat and what is actually someone’s lunch, so let’s break it down.

Refrigerator Rule: Only eat food that you brought or bought.

Most food in a refrigerator work belongs to other people. If a refrigerator is available, employees put their lunches and drinks in the refrigerator. When it is time for lunch, they expect to find their own food and drinks that they brought.

This means that you cannot take food that you see in the refrigerator the way that you might do at home. If you did, you would be taking someone else’s lunch or drink. They would not be happy, and you would get in trouble when they figure out who is taking others’ food.  The main thing to remember is: If you see food that looks interesting, but you didn’t bring it, leave it there unless invited to have some. Only eat food that you brought or bought.

TIP: If you bring a lunch in a paper bag, write your name on the outside. If you set a can or bottle in the refrigerator, write your name on that, too. That way, it will be easy to tell which one belongs to you, and others will leave it alone.

Party! Sometimes Food is For Sharing

Celebrations are fun, whether it’s someone’s birthday, a holiday, or a company event, and they usually involve eating. On special occasions, you may see food in the refrigerator or on the counter that is meant to be shared. Sometimes the food is set out to be eaten anytime, such as donuts, and sometimes it is meant to be eaten when the group gathers at a certain time, such as lunch or a party. Sometimes, the food is not meant for you to eat at all.

Maybe Later, Maybe Not: Food that is sitting on a counter or in the refrigerator could be for a special employee luncheon or party later in the day. If the food is covered up, leave it alone unless you hear that it’s okay to eat. Sometimes a group within the company may be having a smaller celebration. The food may be just for that group. In this case, the food is not meant for you, now or later.

Potluck: Sometimes employees bring dishes to share with each other. In this case, you will hear about it ahead of time, and you would be expected to bring a dish of food to share as well.This is often called a potluck. In this case, the dishes are set out on a table and everyone makes their own plate of food.

Treats: Another time when the food is for sharing is when someone brings treats to share. The person who brought the food may tell you to help yourself. If it’s unwrapped and on a table, it’s probably okay to eat. If in doubt, wait for someone else to go first.

Let’s review. If you see several large containers of food, a big cake, or a plate of cookies in the employee break room, be sure to ask whether it is meant for the employees to eat or whether it is for another group. Someone might be saving it for later in the day or for a certain group.

Okay, so what do you need to remember about food in the break room? Here are the big ideas.

The 5 Rules You Need to Know About Food at Work

  1. Eat food that you BROUGHT or BOUGHT.
  2. If the food is covered with a lid or plastic wrap, it is probably being saved for someone else or for later in the day. It’s best to leave it alone.
  3. It’s usually safer to wait for someone else to uncover the food or to invite you to help yourself.
  4. If the food is sitting on the break table where employees usually sit or where they often put treats to share, then it is probably okay to eat.
  5. If you are in doubt, it’s always best to ask.

If you follow these guidelines, you will save yourself the embarrassment of eating someone else’s food and having to say, “Sorry, I didn’t know that was your lunch.” You’ll be seen as someone with good social skills.

What tips do you have for the employee break room or when starting a new job?

(c) 2013 Smart Steps, LLC

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