Faculty Advisor(s)

Kathryn M. Loukas

Document Type

Course Paper

Publication Date



© 2014 Megan Shea


There is a widely held opinion that eating is one of the most significant, emotional, and enjoyable daily occupations. Mealtimes provide a sense of familiarity, comfort, and structure to our days, while the preparation of meals often provides opportunities for us to socialize, acquire new skills, and develop meaningful roles (Hasselkus, 2002). The sharing of routine family meals is associated with numerous neurological, psychosocial, developmental, and educational benefits, including increased family communication and cohesiveness, and opportunities for parents to model healthy eating patterns and behaviors (Absolom & Roberts, 2011). However, prevalence rates indicate that mealtime difficulties are very common in childhood, occurring in 20 to 50 percent of typically-developing children and in up to 85 percent of children with developmental disabilities or chronic disease (Stapleton, Griffiths, & Sherriff, 2013). Furthermore, many of the characteristic behaviors seen in children with autism interfere with functional daily routines, such as mealtime, and require increased caregiver support to manage and facilitate optimal performance.

The purpose of this piece of scholarly work is to present the findings from evidence-based literature and scientific research regarding the importance of mealtime as a routine family occupation and reasons why young children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD or autism) may have difficulty participating in such a meaningful routine. Through this review process, we will build connections between the autistic brain, behaviors of children with autism, and neuro-occupations. Finally, suggestions will be made for occupational therapy practitioners who are involved in family-centered intervention and are trying to facilitate more successful mealtimes in the homes of children with autism.


This paper was subsequently published as:

Shea, M. (2014). Exploring the Neuro-Occupational Relationship between Routine Family Mealtimes and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). NADD Bulletin, 17(4), 67-71.



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