An assessment of autism knowledge in the medical field
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Once thought to be rare, pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) are now recognized as the most common neurological disorders affecting children and one of the most common developmental disabilities (DD) in Canada (Autism Society of Canada, 2006). Recent reports indicate that PDDs currently affect 1 in 150 children (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007). The purpose of this research was to provide an understanding of medical resident and practicing physicians' basic knowledge regarding PDDs. With a population of children with PDDs who present with varying symptoms, the ability for medical professionals to provide general information, diagnosis, appropriate referrals, and medical care can be quite complex. A basic knowledge of the disorder is only a first step in providing adequate medical care to individuals with autism and their families. An updated version of Stone's (1987) Autism survey was administered to medical residents at four medical schools in Canada and currently practicing physicians at three medical schools and one community health network. As well, a group of professionals specializing in the field ofPDDs, participating in research and clinical practice, were surveyed as an 'expert' group to act as a control measure. Expert responses were consistent with current research in the field. General findings indicated few differences in overall knowledge between residents and physicians, with misconceptions evident in areas such as the nature of the disorder, qualitative characteristics of autism, and effective interventions. Results were also examined by specialty and, while pediatricians demonstrated additional accurate 11 knowledge regarding the nature of the disorder and select qualitative impairments, both residents and practicing physicians demonstrated misconceptions about PDDs. This preliminary study replicated the findings of Stone (1987) and Heidgerken (2005) concerning several misconceptions of PDDs held by residents and practicing physicians. Future research should focus on additional replications with validated measures as well as the gathering of qualitative information, in order to inform the medical profession of the need for education in PDDs at training and professional levels.