Many children who have behavioral problems are referred to community mental health (CMH) organizations. These organizations are designed to provide a diagnosis, treatment, and guidance for children and parents. However, some children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their parents may not be getting the level of care that they need. Lauren Brookman-Frazee of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Diego recently led a study to determine if CMH services adequately served the needs of this segment of the population.
Brookman-Frazee invited parents of autistic children who had visited CMH service providers to participate in an interview about the type of care they received. The parents were asked about their experience with the CMH facilities, the staff members, diagnosis, and plan of treatment. She found that the parents experienced significant stress when navigating the CMH system. “Parents reported a number of barriers to receiving effective CMH services for their children,” Brookman-Frazee said. One of the primary obstacles parents dealt with was a lack of ASD specialists. Children who were referred for ASD behaviors did not always meet with medical professionals who had ASD experience. Additionally, the confusion of having other psychological disturbances made obtaining an accurate diagnosis even more difficult, resulting in more parental stress.
The findings of this study were limited by the sample size and selection. The parents volunteered and were not recruited, and were all from the same area in California. Brookman-Frazee understands that these factors could influence the results, but insists that her study supports previous findings that suggest that services in CMH facilities may not be tailored to meet all of the needs of autistic children and their parents. Increasing efforts toward staff retention and providing expanded access to specialists are some improvements that could enhance the clinical experience for parents and their ASD children.
Brookman-Frazee, Lauren, Mary Baker-Ericzen, Nicole Stadnick, and Robin Taylor. Parent perspectives on community mental health services for children with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Child and Family Studies 21.4 (2012): 533-44. Print.
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