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A Blueprint for Building Capacity: Understanding Providers’ Barriers and Facilitators to Service Provision for Autistic Children

Principal Investigator(s):

Jessica Smith

Grant Type:

Graduate Research




The Rector & Visitors of the University of Virginia

Year Awarded:



In Progress




The United States has an uneven distribution of autism resources with a critical paucity of diagnostic resources. Caregivers of autistic children endorse higher rates of mental and physical healthcare needs, yet they describe challenges that prevent them from accessing needed services. Caregiver-reported barriers include long waitlists for specialty providers, providers’ lack of knowledge in autism and related best practices, and an overall scarcity of autism resources and providers. Service providers have incredible power to optimize autistic youth’s developmental outcomes and increase quality of life by providing timely evidence-based practices, yet they report limited knowledge and self-efficacy in working with autistic youth, insufficient visit time and reimbursement, and a limited availability of community-based resources. A deeper understanding of providers’ service delivery experiences is needed to inform strategies to improve the health and mental healthcare system. However, qualitative research in provider-reported experiences of diagnostic and mental health service provision has largely been conducted outside of the United States, making it difficult to generalize to our unique healthcare system. The present study seeks to fill a critical gap in knowledge by characterizing the breadth of providers delivering diagnostic and mental health services to autistic youth in the United States and by documenting provider-reported barriers and facilitators to service provision for autistic children from the perspectives of those who do and do not provide such services. Increasing the workforce capacity to meet the needs of autistic children is an essential step to sustainable service access. Through qualitative inquiry into service delivery experiences of those who and do not provide diagnostic and mental health services to autistic youth, the present study not only gives us an understanding of what prevents and enables service provision in community settings but provides next steps towards scaling up autism service provision to meet growing public health demands.