Accessibility of nutritional services for children with autism spectrum disorder in the United Arab Emirates: Insights from special education teachers and parents

Maxwell Peprah Opoku, Noora Anwahi, Shashidhar Belbase, Haseena Shah, Thara Alkateri, Ashraf Moustafa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Goal 2 of United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals exhorts countries to provide guidelines on better nutrition for all children. In response, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) government designed a national nutrition framework to encourage better eating habits. However, large body of literature has reported that children with ASD are at high risks of malnutrition and poor eating habits. Yet, in the UAE and other contexts, there is limited research on accessibility of nutritional services to adults in the lives of children with ASD. Aims: As parents and teachers spend the most time with children with ASD, this study sought to understand their perceptions of the availability of nutritional services for such children in the UAE. Method and procedures: Penchansky and Thomas’ (1981) health access theory served as the theoretical framework; its five tenets (geography, finance, accommodation, resources and acceptability) informed the design of a semi-structured interview guide. Data were collected from 21 participants, comprising 6 parents and 15 teachers of children with ASD. Outcomes and results: Thematic analysis revealed that participants perceived accommodation, acceptability, and human resource availability as barriers to accessibility. However, geographical and financial accessibility were not identified as challenges. Conclusions and implications: The study calls for health policymakers to formalise nutritional services as an integrated part of the UAE health system, while also extending services to children with ASD. Contribution: This study makes a substantial contribution to the literature. First, it addresses the needs for nutritional services for children with ASD. There is a limited body of knowledge on whether children with ASD have access to the requisite nutrition for development This study sheds light on an area that has received limited scholarly insight. Second, it adds to the usage of health access theory in studies on nutritional services for children with ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104521
JournalResearch in Developmental Disabilities
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023


  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Eating habits
  • Malnutrition
  • Nutritional services
  • Parents
  • Teachers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology


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