All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

Fred J Biasini

Advisory Committee Members

Brenda Bertrand

Kristi C Guest

Sarah O'Kelley

Martha S Wingate

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) College of Arts and Sciences


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by two domains: 1) deficits in social interaction and communication, and, 2) restricted and repetitive behavior, interests, or activities. Poor adaptive functioning skills is an associated feature of ASD and leads to concerns for establishing independence as adolescents with ASD transition into adults. The dietary behavior of adolescents in the United States do not meet national standards for healthy eating, which could lead to poor health outcomes. Eating and feeding problems are more prevalent in children with ASD compared to their typically developing peers. Independent skills and health are a main source of stress for parents of children with ASD. The objective of the current study was to pilot the development of a multi-component CHEF cooking program for adolescents with ASD to improve their mealtime social skills, adaptive functioning, and dietary behavior, as well as their primary caregiver’s experience of parenting stress. After participating in the program, adolescents with ASD improved their dietary behavior and independently cooked more often at home, t(6) = 3.87, p < .05. Adolescent participants were reported by their parents to significantly expand the variety of fruits, t(6) = 2.49, p < .05, and vegetables, t(6) = 2.48, p < .05 accepted into their diet. Caregiver stress approached significantly high levels and were maintained at this level after adolescents participated in the program (p > .05). Qualitative data supported an in-depth understanding of study findings by showing adolescents acceptance for various fruits and vegetables into their diet, improved social skills with the family related to mealtime, and confidence in their cooking skills. In conclusion, the pilot of the CHEF cooking program was successful in improving dietary behavior of adolescents with ASD. Future directions should refine the program by incorporating a greater focus on other skills and include a parent component.



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