School of Education News

Blog puts spotlight on mealtime and autism research of UW-Madison’s Ausderau, OT students

October 26, 2018

A blog recently put the spotlight on a publication co-authored by UW-Madison’s Karla Ausderau and her team of students.

Ausderau is an assistant professor with the School of Education and the Department of Kinesiology’s occupational therapy program. Her research focuses on autism spectrum disorders, feeding challenges and family mealtimes.

The blog post notes how children with autism are often very selective eaters, which can make mealtime complex.

The post goes on to note various ways to support participation during mealtimes, and highlights research conducted by Ausderau and students Jessie Muesbeck, Brittany St. John and Shannon Kant.

The report notes: “So, which strategy should families incorporate to support mealtime engagement? Should they intervene, distract, or ignore their child, modify the environment, prepare preferred food, or disguise nutrients in other food? Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, conducted a study to explore the frequency and characterize the purpose of props used during mealtimes with children with ASD. Props are items that support child participation during mealtime, such as toys or typically child friendly items or common household objects.”

The report continues: “Twelve families with a total of 14 children with ASD that experienced mealtime challenges participated in the study. For this, a secondary video analysis was taken from a previous, larger mixed-methods study on the impact of mealtime challenges and eating difficulties in children with ASD on family mealtimes.” explains how the researchers used behavioral coding software to review and visualize observations.

Results of the behavioral analysis indicated, reports, that “in 75 percent of the cases, props were used during mealtime, mainly within the strategies of meal preparation and adaptability, distraction, and positive reinforcement (e.g. holding toys or stuffed animals, or reading books aloud throughout mealtimes). The props were meant to support child participation and regulation. For instance, the prop could help to calm a child, as holding a toy provided some comfort, or support the child’s focus. In some families, props were also used as a reward to reinforce positive eating or mealtime behavior. For example, a mother required that the child take bites of food in order to put their preferred stuffed animals on the table.”

To learn much more, check out the blog report for free here.

And for additional details, check out the study itself, “Use of Props During Mealtime for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Self-Regulation and Reinforcement,” in the Occupational Therapy Journal of Research: Occupation, Participation and Health.

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