N.S. Ramli, N.H. Hamzaid, Z. Abdul Manaf, N.I. Hassan, N.A.S. Ismail

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (MALAYSIA)
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disability characterized by deficits in social communication and social interaction, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. Children with ASD frequently associated with food refusal, limited food repertoire, and high-frequency single food intake. An action research study was formed to develop a nutrition module to overcome the nutritional issues among children with ASD.

This study was conducted in three phases: 1) needs assessment, 2) module development, 3) content validation by the experts and acceptance from the parents and educators at National Autism Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Initially, a survey was directed to assess the nutritional knowledge of the parents and educators attending a series of training of trainers (ToT) at the National Autism Centre (n=200). Subsequently, a focus group discussion on the sub-sample from the quantitative study (n=30) was organised to explore different themes of the nutritional knowledge and the limiting factors. The needs assessment was then followed by a module development and content validation by the experts.

Results & Discussion:
Data in Phase I revealed that parents and educators of children with ASD have inadequate knowledge relating to the proper dietary and nutritional needs of the children. This observation has significantly related to the low nutritional status of their children (p<0.05). Various themes were generated from the focus group discussions including superficial knowledge on the correct dietary intake among the parents and teachers, sensory and texture issues, limitation factors from the parents, challenges in introducing new foods health issues that involve the children and food behaviours of the children. In Phase II, a nutrition module was developed by integrating the themes. For Phase III, content validation from the experts was adopted in order to enhance the effectiveness of this module. This process was then followed by getting feedback from parents and educators on the acceptance of the module.

This module can be seen as one of the ways of assisting parents and educators to implement correct nutritional practice and later provide an aid in managing issues of the children with ASD in the future.