Original Research

Feeding children with autism in South Africa: The teachers’ perspectives

Skye N. Adams, Nthabiseng Matsimela
African Journal of Disability | Vol 12 | a1252 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajod.v12i0.1252 | © 2023 Skye N. Adams, Nthabiseng Matsimela | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 May 2023 | Published: 02 November 2023

About the author(s)

Skye N. Adams, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Nthabiseng Matsimela, Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

Abstract

Background: Over 80% of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (autism) exhibit disruptive behaviours during mealtimes, highlighting the need for personalised care. In South Africa, teachers often take on the responsibility of feeding due to resource constraints and the time children spend at school. Moreover, children with autism have unique and individualised feeding requirements, which many teachers may not have the necessary training or skills to address adequately.

Objectives: To explore the ways in which teachers of autistic children manage feeding difficulties in the classroom.

Method: A qualitative research design was employed using semi-structured interviews. Eight teachers were interviewed on feeding autistic children between the ages of 3 years - 9 years in Johannesburg, South Africa. Data were transcribed and analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: The findings revealed that teachers encountered distinct challenges when it came to feeding autistic children in the classroom, particularly concerning the management of associated feeding difficulties. Teachers employed several strategies to encourage eating in the classroom setting including: (1) bolus modification, (2) behaviour modelling, (3) positive reinforcement and (4) offering choices and alternatives.

Conclusion: The study concludes the need for specialised support and training for teachers to address the individualised feeding needs of children with autism. Implementing targeted interventions and providing resources for teachers could enhance their abilities to effectively support children with autism during mealtimes and promote a more inclusive classroom environment.

Contribution: This study highlighted the importance of including the teacher in the multidisciplinary team when managing the feeding challenges in children with autism.


Keywords

autism; classroom; feeding support; teachers; South Africa

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 10: Reduced inequalities

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