Factors Related to Treatment Choices for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Role of Child- and Family-Characteristics and of Parent Perceptions



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The rates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses continue to increase, and the impact of ASD on children and their families is significant. Children with ASD often are served by various professionals, but parents are ultimately the decision-makers for what types of treatments to pursue. Numerous approaches to and types of ASD treatments have been proposed, many of which are not evidence-based. In addition, parents of children with ASD often choose to pursue multiple treatments simultaneously. Studies indicate that some child-specific (e.g., age, cognitive functioning, severity of ASD symptomatology) and contextual (e.g., parent education level, family income, race/ethnicity) factors are related to the types of ASD treatments parents pursue, though more research in this area is needed. In addition, some research suggests that parent perceptions about the nature and course of their child’s ASD are related to what types of treatments are chosen. In the current study, data from well-characterized samples of children (ages 4-17) who were diagnosed with an ASD were examined to address these issues. Samples were drawn from the Simons Simplex Collection (n = 2,115), and a small subset (n = 68) provided additional data on parent perceptions of ASD. Results demonstrated that parents typically tried several different treatment types over their children’s lifetimes. School-based treatments were most-often used, but other widely used treatments included psychotropic medication. A series of binary logistic regression analyses indicated that several different child- and contextual-factors, including child age, age of ASD onset, verbal cognitive ability, annual household income, and parental educational level were found to predict whether parents had ever used particular treatments with their children. Moreover, parent perceptions about the course and nature of their child’s ASD—especially how much control parents believed they had over treatment, how many symptoms they ascribed to their child’s ASD diagnosis, and how chronic they viewed their child’s ASD to be— also contributed to having ever chosen some treatment types. Results are discussed in the context of implications as well as limitations. Many additional questions were generated as a result of this study and are discussed as directions for future research.



Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Treatment choices, Parent perceptions