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A Realist Evaluation of Autism ServiCe Delivery (RE-ASCeD): Which diagnostic pathways work best, for whom and in what context? Findings from a rapid realist review

Abrahamson, Vanessa, Zhang, Wenjing, Wilson, Patricia M., Farr, William, Reddy, Venkat, Parr, Jeremy, Peckham, Anna, Male, Ian (2021) A Realist Evaluation of Autism ServiCe Delivery (RE-ASCeD): Which diagnostic pathways work best, for whom and in what context? Findings from a rapid realist review. BMJ Open, 11 . Article Number e05124. ISSN 2044-6055. (doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2021-051241) (KAR id:91038)


Objectives: Waiting times in the UK for an autism diagnostic assessment have increased rapidly in the last five years. This review explored research (including ‘grey’ literature) to uncover the current evidence base about autism diagnostic pathways and what works best, for whom and in what circumstances, to deliver high quality and timely diagnosis. Design: We performed a Rapid Realist Review (RRR) consistent with recognised standards for realist syntheses. We collected 129 grey literature and policy/guidelines and 220 articles from seven databases (Jan 2011-Dec 2019). We developed programme theories of how, why and in what contexts an intervention worked, based on cross-comparison and synthesis of evidence. The focus was on identifying factors that contributed to a clearly defined intervention (the diagnostic pathway), associated with specific outcomes (high quality and timely), within specific parameters (Autism diagnostic services in Paediatric and Child & Adolescent Mental Health services in the UK). Our Expert Stakeholder Group, including representatives from local parent forums, national advocacy groups and clinicians, was integral to the process. Results: Based on 45 relevant articles, we identified seven programme theories that were integral to the process of diagnostic service delivery. Four were related to the clinical pathway: initial recognition of possible autism; referral and triaging; diagnostic model; and providing feedback to parents. Three programme theories were pertinent to all stages of the referral and diagnostic process: working in partnership with families; inter-agency working; and training, service evaluation and development. Conclusions: This theory informed review of childhood autism diagnostic pathways identified important aspects that may contribute to efficient, high quality and family-friendly service delivery. The programme theories will be further tested through a national survey of current practice and in-depth longitudinal case studies of exemplar services.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-051241
Subjects: R Medicine
Divisions: Divisions > Division for the Study of Law, Society and Social Justice > School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research > Centre for Health Services Studies
Depositing User: Wenjing Zhang
Date Deposited: 22 Oct 2021 10:39 UTC
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2023 13:01 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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