Do Community Mental Health Facilities Serve the Needs of Autistic Children?

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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  • karen


    September 24th, 2012 at 9:12 PM

    all this comes down to funding more or less.would be interesting to see a satisfaction against budget allocation graph.staffing issues have been a perennial problem in the healthcare industry and will it ever end?

  • jamie


    September 24th, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    those from disadvantaged backgrounds often look up to CMHS for adequate healthcare and I’m not surprised that there are shortcomings in there. after all, the number of people does not matter as long as their wallets are not too heavy!

  • pamela j

    pamela j

    September 25th, 2012 at 3:40 AM

    You can’t send autistic children just anywhere!
    They need to be referred to resources that have specialists to help them through their very unique situations and difficulties.
    Autism is something that is understood by very few, and there are even those who would choose to harm autistic patients rather than deal with their specific issues.
    This can’t be allowed to happen.
    Families who have to deal with autism deserve so mauch better than this.

  • Lisa


    September 25th, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    such a valid point that we have to increase not only the level of training that the employees at these centers receive but also increase the awareness that we have to not only recruit better people for these jobs but also give them the feelings of support and guidance that we would all need if we were in this type of work environment that would make us want to stay. many times the sheer amount of turnover in these facilities can really confuse many of the parents and the children, especially those with autism who need to be able to develop a level of comfort with these providers, and it could make them less than willing to seek out this kind of help even when it is offered and available.

  • angela


    September 25th, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    is this just a matter of shortage or doe sit signify apathy too?not only is it unprofessional to not have the appropriate staff but it could lead to problems for these kids down the road.someone who is a specialist or has experience with autistic individuals would serve them a lot better than the others.they really need to pull their socks up on this one.

  • regina M

    regina M

    September 25th, 2012 at 4:37 PM

    Sad to see those who deserve the most care get only inadequate care and that they are made to go through a system that is not really convenient.Ease of access to health services is a very important aspect beside the quality and is something that needs a look in.

  • henry k

    henry k

    September 25th, 2012 at 11:59 PM

    we need auditing and rating agencies for these health centers.I think they are taking things far too lightly because there have been quite a few reports on their short comings of late.

  • Miller


    September 26th, 2012 at 4:04 AM

    If I were a parent of a child that was in this situation, then I think that I would try any way possible to seek out one on one help. I realize that money can often be an issue, but if you have your child on Medicaid, which most autistic children should qualify for regardless of family income, then many of these services should be covered.

  • selena


    September 26th, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    So many of these facilities are doing the best that they can with the funds that they have.
    I wish that more people would see the need to increase funds to programs like these so that these children would not continue to be underserved and fall through the cracks.
    Autistic children have so much that they could do if only they had the right sort of resources and tools to help them get there.
    Many times their parents have done all that they know to do and they just need help and can’t get it when they need it.
    We have simply got to do a better job at keeping the money coming to these programs and ensuring that these families do not get left behind.

  • Ben


    September 27th, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    I don’t think that I have ever heard very many good things about state provided services for this demographic.

    Is there a model that anyone knows of that has done great things for their patients and that could be perhaps be used as a study model for others to follow?

  • Jenna March

    Jenna March

    September 30th, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    I am the mother of two autistic children, one mild and one more severe, and all I can tell you is that if you want the very best care for your children, this is something that you will have to advocate for as a parent and not think that other organizations will take care of this for you. There are some programs available that really have good intentions, but with the lack of money and training for their employees and volunteer, many times giving your child over to that can spell more harm than good. Please don’t think that I mean this in a bad way because there are some very caring groups who are willing to help. But please, all I am asking, is that you try not to place all of your eggs in one basket. Get the education yourself, get the training, and be the parent in this situation that your children need you to be. We are the best care givers for our children.

  • Anna


    April 5th, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    I need help. Looking for a health Care units in Fllrida USA to learn how to help kids with autism.
    I am very thakfull for your help.

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