Addressing current barriers to autism diagnoses through a tiered diagnostic approach involving pediatric primary care providers

Andrea Trubanova Wieckowski, Katharine E. Zuckerman, Sarabeth Broder-Fingert, Diana L. Robins

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Formal autism diagnosis from a specialist trained in autism assessment is customary prior to a child accessing early, intensive autism-specific services. However, long wait lists for diagnostic evaluations and limited specialty workforce have created substantial delays. Additionally, lengthy multidisciplinary evaluations are costly to insurers, inconvenient to families, and disproportionally impact under-resourced families. Diagnostic delays can impede access to intervention services. These barriers, combined with evidence regarding the importance of receiving early, autism-specific treatment, demand new approaches enabling access to autism specific services before comprehensive evaluation. Pediatric primary care providers (PCPs) are often the only health care professionals with whom a family interacts during early childhood and can play a crucial role in helping children with autism symptoms access services. Many strategies for autism diagnosis in primary care are being developed and tested; however, they have yet to be broadly adopted by PCPs, primarily due to critical implementation barriers in primary care settings. There is also not enough evidence on the accuracy of PCPs' diagnostic impressions without extensive specialty support, resulting in PCP hesitancy in diagnosing ASD, as well as family and service provider hesitancy in accepting a PCP autism diagnosis. In this commentary, we explore the acute need for shortening waitlists for autism evaluations through a tiered diagnostic approach, in which PCPs can rule in or rule out autism in children, for whom diagnosis is clear, and refer more complex cases for specialist evaluations, and explore implementation challenges to this approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2216-2222
Number of pages7
JournalAutism Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2022


  • autism spectrum disorder
  • diagnosis
  • early detection
  • primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Genetics(clinical)


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