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Front Psychiatry. 2019 May 28;10:372. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00372. eCollection 2019.

Physician View and Experience of the Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in Young Children.

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Center for Biomedical Ethics and Law, Department of Medicine, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
Center for Autism Expertise, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Hospitals Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
Department of Neurosciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
Department of Philosophy, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium.


Introduction: Clinicians working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) occupy an important position between parents and the wide-ranging research findings. However, it is not widely known how clinicians view and experience ASD in children, even though their perspective has been shown to significantly influence their work. Material and methods: Sixteen physicians working with preschool children without a diagnosis of (intellectual or other) disability with a (presumed) diagnosis of ASD participated in a semistructured interview. They described their professional views on ASD, and how they experienced its use in their clinical practice. The data were analyzed by applying the qualitative research method of interpretative phenomenological analysis of the data through Nvivo 11. Results: The main topic of the interviewed physicians' views and experiences of ASD in a young child comprised three inductively established themes: 1) physicians' views on ASD are multifaceted but fit within their personal clinical styles; 2) the ASD diagnosis is a "descriptive" part of a clinical trajectory; and 3) ASD treatment is a mix of "standard" approaches and a personalized search. These physicians' perspectives on ASD are composed of multiple and sometimes ambiguous facets. However, their views are embedded in their personal clinical styles in general (i.e., beyond ASD) and are experienced as clinically "workable." With the aim of finding an adequate approach to the problems parents bring to their office, many interviewed physicians say that-complementary to or rather than a classificatory diagnosis-they prefer using a personalized "profile" of a child in a therapeutic "process." Conclusions: The interviewed physicians consider doubts and concerns to be an inherent part of their clinical work with ASD in young children, but do not experience this ambiguity as an obstacle to clinical care. These physicians deal with the multiplicity of their views on ASD by basing their eclectic views on their generally adopted clinical styles, and by selecting what works for them, and for the parents and child, from what they regard as the 'textbook knowledge' on ASD. We discuss the implications of these findings for translating research results to the clinic.


autism spectrum disorder; clinic; diagnosis; experiences; integration; interviews; physicians; views

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