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Far beyond nutrients: experiences and connections with autistic children based on cooking and sharing meals

Bruna Muratti Ferraz de Oliveira Maria Fernanda Petroli Frutuoso About the authors

This study examined ways to expand the analysis of diet in autistic children, widely considered inadequate according to food selectivity and/or difficulty interacting at mealtimes, attributed to alterations in sensorial processing and social, communicative, and cognitive difficulties. From an ethnographic perspective, a participant observational study was performed with field diary records and cooking workshops with autistic children and adolescents, aimed at analyzing the relations established by the children with the food and utensils, physical space, and between each other and the adults. The records were analyzed based on Bondía’s notion of experience and Actor-Network Theory. The resulting data showed singularities in performing cooking tasks and accepting recipes. Some children did not eat the foods, but smelled, licked, and handled the ingredients in moments of experimentation through mediation by the educators, facilitating connection by the children with food and eating. The interactions established with foods and utensils highlight the importance of food and eating as mediators of the connection between autistic children and their peers, with adults, and with the world. This experience broke with the homogenizing value assigned to autistic children’s difficulties with interaction and reinforced commensality as a tool for building networks of care. To conceive eating for these children from an expanded perspective means to value subjectivity, the relationship to food, and interaction with others at mealtimes, far beyond the biological understanding of the nutrients.

Child Nutrition; Cooking; Austism Spectrum Disorder; Interpersonal Relations

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