Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 49, Issue 2, pp 683–691 | Cite as

“In Medical School, You Get Far More Training on Medical Stuff than Developmental Stuff”: Perspectives on ASD from Ontario Physicians

  • Golnaz GhaderiEmail author
  • Shelley L. Watson
Original Paper


This study investigated the knowledge and perceived competence of Ontario physicians regarding the diagnosis and treatment of ASDs. Previous research demonstrates that many physicians would like more education regarding diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Twenty-seven Ontario physicians filled out a questionnaire and participated in a semi-structured interview. Findings revealed that despite participants’ high perceived knowledge regarding diagnosis and treatment of ASDs, they feel uncomfortable in providing care for this population. Furthermore, many participants stated diagnosing and treating ASDs is not within their scope of practice. Findings have implications for increasing physicians’ knowledge of diagnosis and treatment of ASDs as well as what is required to enhance healthcare for individuals with ASDs and their families.


Physicians Autism spectrum disorders Perceived Knowledge Competency Diagnosis Treatment 


Author Contributions

GG conceived of the study, participated in its design, coordination, recruitment of participants, data entry and statistical analyses, interpretation of data and drafted the manuscript; SW participated in the design and interpretation of the data, helped with drafting the manuscript, reviewing the manuscript, and general supervision of the research study. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the Research Ethics Boards at Laurentian University, Ontario, Canada, which is in accordance with the Canadian Tri-Council Recommendations for Research with Human Participants.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. American Psychological Association. (2018). Autism. Retrieved from
  2. Anagnostou, E., Zwaigenbaum, L., Szatmari, P., Fombonne, E., Fernandez, B. A., Woodbury-Smith, M., et al. (2014). Autism spectrum disorder: Advances in evidence-based practice. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 186(7), 509–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Autism Speaks. (2015). Autism prevalence. Retrieved January 20, 2015, from
  4. Baron-Cohen, S., Scott, F. J., Allison, C., Williams, J., Bolton, P., Matthews, F. E., & Brayne, C. (2009). Prevalence of autism-spectrum conditions: UK school-based population study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 194, 500–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Boyd, B. A., Odom, S. L., Humphreys, B. P., & Sam, A. M. (2010). Infants and toddlers with autism spectrum disorder: Early identification and early intervention. Journal of Early Intervention, 32(2), 75–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Canadian Paediatric Society. (2016). Behavioural and general developmental screening tools. Retrieved from
  8. Carbone, P. S., Behl, D. D., Azor, V., & Murphy, N. A. (2010). The medical home for children with autism spectrum disorders: Parent and pediatrician perspectives. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(3), 317–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Autism prevalence slightly higher in CDC’s ADDM Network. Retrieved from
  10. Crais, E. R., Mccomish, C. S., Humphreys, B. P., Watson, L. R., Baranek, G. T., Reznick, J. S., et al. (2014). Pediatric healthcare professionals’ views on autism spectrum disorder screening at 12–18 months. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(9), 2311–2328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Creswell, J., & Tashakkori, A. (2007). Developing publishable mixed methods manuscripts. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1(2), 107–111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Daniels, A. M., Halladay, A. K., Shih, A., Elder, L. M., & Dawson, G. (2014). Approaches to enhancing the early detection of autism spectrum disorders: A systematic review of the literature. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(2), 141–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Finke, E. H., Drager, K. D. R., & Ash, S. (2010). Paediatricians’ perspectives on identification and diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 8(3), 254–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gordon-Lipkin, E., Foster, J., & Peacock, G. (2016). Whittling down the wait time: Exploring models to minimize the delay from initial concern to diagnosis and treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 63(5), 851–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harrington, J. W., Rosen, L., Garnecho, A., & Patrick, P. A. (2006). Parental perceptions and use of complementary and alternative medicine practices for children with autistic spectrum disorders in private practice. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 27, S156–S161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Harris, S., & Handleman, J. (2000). Age and IQ at intake as predictors of placement for young children with autism: A four- to six-year follow-up. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 30, 137–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Havercamp, S. M., Ratliff-Schaub, K., Macho, P. N., Johnson, C. N., Bush, K. L., & Souders, H. T. (2016). Preparing tomorrow’s doctors to care for patients with autism spectrum disorder. Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 54(3), 202–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Isaacs, B., Minnes, P., Burbidge, J., Loh, A., & Versnel, J. (2012). Comparison of medical, nursing and allied healthcare students’ training in developmental disabilities. April 2012: Poster presented at the Ontario Association on Developmental Disabilities Research Special Interest Group Meeting, Kingston, Ontario.Google Scholar
  19. Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217–250.Google Scholar
  20. Keenan, M., Dillenburger, K., Doherty, A., Byrne, T., & Gallagher, S. (2010). The experiences of parents during diagnosis and forward planning for children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 23(4), 390–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Liptak, G. S., Orlando, M., Yingling, J. T., Theurer-Kaufman, K. L., Malay, D. P., Tompkins, L. A., et al. (2006). Satisfaction with primary health care received by families of children with developmental disabilities. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 20(4), 245–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McMorris, C. A., Cox, E., Hudson, M., Liu, X., & Bebko, J. M. (2013). The diagnostic process of children with autism spectrum disorder: Implications for early identification and intervention. Journal on Developmental Disabilities, 19(2), 42–49.Google Scholar
  23. McPartland, J. C., Reichow, B., & Volkmar, F. R. (2012). Sensitivity and specificity of proposed DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(4), 368–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Minnes, P., Isaacs, B., Burbidge, J., Loh, A., & Versnel, J. (2012). Predictors of healthcare students perceived competence working with individuals with developmental disabilities. Ontario 2012: Poster presented at the Ontario Association on Developmental Disabilities Research Special Interest Group Meeting, Kingston.Google Scholar
  25. Nah, Y., Young, R. L., Brewer, N., & Berlingeri, G. (2014). Autism detection in early childhood (ADEC): Reliability and validity data for a level 2 screening tool for autistic disorder. Psychological Assessment, 26(1), 215–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Rhoades, R. A., Scarpe, A., & Salley, B. (2007). The importance of physician knowledge of autism spectrum disorder: Results of a parent survey. BMC Pediatrics, 7(37), 1–10.Google Scholar
  27. Rice, C., Nicholas, J., Baio, J., Pettygrove, S., Lee, L. C., Braun, K. V. N., et al. (2010). Changes in autism spectrum disorder prevalence in 4 areas of the United States. Disability and Health Journal, 3(3), 186–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Self, T. L., Parham, D. F., & Rajagopalan, J. (2015). Autism spectrum disorder early screening practices: A survey of physicians. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 36(4), 195–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Skuse, D. H. (2012). DSM-5’s conceptualization of autistic disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 51(4), 344–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Steiner, A. M., Goldsmith, T. R., Snow, A. V., & Chawarska, K. (2012). Practitioner’s guide to assessment of autism spectrum disorders in infants and toddlers. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42, 1183–1196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tsai, L. Y., & Ghaziuddin, M. (2014). DSM-5 ASD moves forward into the past. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(2), 321–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Woodard, L. J., Havercamp, S. M., Zwygart, K. K., & Perkins, E. A. (2012). An innovative clerkship module focused on patients with disabilities. Academic Medicine, 87, 537–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Laurentian UniversitySudburyCanada

Personalised recommendations