Unmet need and problems accessing core health care services for children with autism spectrum disorder

Matern Child Health J. 2012 Jul;16(5):1081-91. doi: 10.1007/s10995-011-0833-6.


To investigate the health care experiences of children with autism spectrum disorder, whether they have unmet needs, and if so, what types, and problems they encounter accessing needed care. We address these issues by identifying four core health care services and access problems related to provider and system characteristics. Using data from the 2005-2006 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs (NS-CSHCN) we compared children with autism spectrum disorder with children with special health care needs with other emotional, developmental or behavioral problems (excluding autism spectrum disorder) and with other children with special health care needs. We used weighted logistic regression to examine differences in parent reports of unmet needs for the three different health condition groups. Overall unmet need for each service type among CSHCN ranged from 2.5% for routine preventive care to 15% for mental health services. After controlling for predisposing, enabling and need factors, some differences across health condition groups remained. Families of children with autism spectrum disorder were in fact significantly more at risk for having unmet specialty and therapy care needs. Additionally, families of children with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to report provider lack of skills to treat the child as a barrier in obtaining therapy and mental health services. Disparities in unmet needs for children with autism suggest that organizational features of managed care programs and provider characteristics pose barriers to accessing care.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / therapy*
  • Child Health Services / organization & administration
  • Child Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disabled Children
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Humans
  • Insurance Coverage
  • Insurance, Health
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Needs Assessment*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • United States