The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased 10-fold in the past 40 years, and disparities have been noted by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, prompting concern about diagnostic accuracy. Provider perceptions of ASD diagnostic accuracy are not known. We conducted a survey of providers who diagnose ASD assessing how nonclinical factors might affect ASD diagnostic rates.
The mixed-mode survey was sent to the members of the Society of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics with clinical interest in ASD (n = 400). Respondents used a Likert-type scale to address how often they and their colleagues overdiagnosed or underdiagnosed ASD. They were also asked how families grouped by race/ethnicity, education, socioeconomic status, and urbanicity perceived an ASD diagnosis.
Sixty-three percent of providers completed the survey. Eight point seven percent of providers self-reported that they overdiagnose ASD at least sometimes. However, 58% of providers reported that local colleagues overdiagnose ASD at least sometimes. Seven point eight percent of providers self-reported underdiagnosing ASD at least sometimes and cited parents not wanting a diagnosis as one of the most common reasons they may underdiagnose. Providers reported that non-white and rural families were more likely to think that ASD diagnosis was “a bad thing” than “a good thing” than white and urban and suburban families, respectively.
Providers report moderate rates of ASD misdiagnosis and perceive differences in diagnostic preferences according to family characteristics. The study results may help explain the trends and disparities in ASD diagnosis.