Identifying the Barriers to Early Diagnosis and Treatment in Underserved Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Their Families: A Qualitative Study

Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2016 Jun;37(6):412-20. doi: 10.3109/01612840.2016.1153174. Epub 2016 Apr 12.


Clinical accounts indicate that disparities exist among families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), and that these disparities impede timely diagnosis and intervention. Furthermore, families living in rural areas are more likely to have reduced access to proper care and use alternative, unproven, and potentially harmful treatments. The purpose of this project was to begin addressing these needs by engaging providers and families of children with ASD living in rural and typically underserved areas. The investigators established a Community Advisory Board (CAB) of ASD professionals (e.g., community-based healthcare and service providers, director of a center for disabilities, psychologist, autism researcher, and special education professional). Next, they conducted four focus groups comprised of a total of 35 major stakeholders (e.g., individuals with ASD, parents of individuals with ASD, community-based healthcare and service providers, school teachers) to determine potential resources, barriers to early diagnosis/treatment, and alternative treatment use in children with ASD. Focus group sessions were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed by three trained independent coders. Community participants identified several barriers to early diagnosis and intervention, as well as a variety of alternative treatments used in children with ASD. Thematic analysis of focus group transcripts showed several overarching themes regarding barriers to early diagnosis and treatment. Findings from this study have implications for practice and future research.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Child
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Services Accessibility*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medically Underserved Area*
  • Middle Aged
  • Parents
  • Qualitative Research
  • Rural Population
  • Young Adult