Training pediatricians in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) in early diagnosis and comprehensive management of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is crucial to ensure optimal developmental outcomes for a substantial number of children with ASD in this region. This study evaluates the relevance and effectiveness of an evidence-based telementoring model Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) Autism in increasing pediatricians' access to best-practice care for children with ASD in LMIC contexts.
ECHO Autism was launched by a ‟hub” team of multidisciplinary ASD experts at a child development center in Mumbai, India. The culturally modified model included 13 biweekly sessions conducted annually using video-conferencing technology. Sessions combined expert-delivered didactics and facilitated case-based discussions on best-practice methods in screening, diagnosing, and managing autism and its comorbidities. Sixty-two physicians, including 59 pediatricians across 2 cohorts (2019–2020), participated in the mixed-methods study to evaluate participants' reactions, knowledge, behaviors, and impact on children and families.
Participants represented a broad geographic reach across India (n = 47) and other LMICs (n = 15). Both quantitative and qualitative data revealed high levels of participant satisfaction and improved knowledge and self-efficacy in ASD diagnosis and management. Qualitative themes highlighted the adult-learning processes of ECHO Autism that participants considered novel and beneficial, such as reflective discussions, respectful mentoring, having a parent as ‟expert,” and cultural relevance, alongside changes in practice behaviors.
ECHO Autism clinics facilitated by local experts in LMICs can improve access to early diagnosis and evidence-based, comprehensive management for children with ASD and their families by positively influencing pediatricians' knowledge, attitudes, and practice behaviors.