Background: Many countries have developed health initiatives to protect those with disabilities and developmental concerns in the past few years. However, the needs of autistic individuals are still short of being fulfilled. Partially due to limited research expenditure, which would allow bridging the gap between evidence and practice, the long time it takes to implement passed laws, and the limited operationalization of inclusive policies.
Objective: To quantitatively examine changes in the child's age at the time of caregiver's first developmental concerns and age of diagnosis of their autistic child across 5 years. Also, to address challenges experienced by caregivers (e.g., reported service barriers) and the work still needing to be done in Argentina based on caregivers' reports of their priorities (e.g., ensuring their child receives better services).
Methods: Two independent samples of caregivers of autistic individuals were surveyed by the Red Espectro Autista Latinoamerica (REAL) in 2015 (n = 763) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2020 (n = 422). Similar items in both surveys were compared through descriptive inferential analysis and chi-square tests for categorical variables.
Results: Compared to the 2015 sample, for the 2020 sample, more caregivers reported an earlier age of first concerns and an earlier age of a professional diagnosis. In the 2020 sample, more children diagnosed before the age of three had a doctor or a teacher noticing the first developmental concern. Also, in this sample, fewer caregivers reported service barriers (e.g., limited availability, waitlist, costs, etc.) and a need for better social support and better health services. However, rates of caregivers indicating a need for more rights for autistic individuals and greater protection of existing rights increased. There was no change in the reported rate of family members who stopped working to care for the autistic individual. For both samples, there was statistically significant differences in individual (physician, teacher, caregiver) noticing first developmental concern and the age of diagnosis, with the majority having a caregiver noticing the first concern.
Conclusion: The 5 years that separate both samples show an improvement in developmental concerns being noticed, a decrease in age of diagnosis, and an improvement in several service areas such as community awareness. Also, caregivers reported fewer barriers to service accessibility, thus suggesting a positive impact stemming from changes in public policies, non-profit organizations' work through awareness campaigns, and advocates' strives toward greater awareness. Nonetheless, a similar proportion of family members reported ceasing working to care for autistic individuals and perceived that the fundamental rights of their autistic children needed to be protected. These results imply that despite better care pathways in Argentina, there are still gaps when attempting to meet the needs of autistic individuals and their families. The present study provides a meaningful understanding of existing gaps and help exemplify the perceived improvements when non-profit agencies and advocates promote increased rights and community awareness in addition to the established laws focusing on ASD.
Montenegro MC, Bernal E, Cukier S, Valdez D, Rattazzi A, Garrido G, Rosoli A, Silvestre Paula C, Garcia R and Montiel-Nava C (2022) Age of diagnosis, service access, and rights of autistic individuals in Argentina: Caregivers reports of changes and similarities across time. Front. Psychiatry 13:915380. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.915380
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Frontiers in Psychiatry