Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in adults and children in the UK: A narrative review

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Abstract

Background: Research suggests that diagnostic procedures for Autism Spectrum Disorder are not consistent across practice and that diagnostic rates can be affected by contextual and social drivers. The purpose of this review was to consider how the content of clinical practice guidelines shapes diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the UK; and investigate where, within those guidelines, social factors and influences are considered. Methods: We electronically searched multiple databases (NICE Evidence Base; TRIP; Social Policy and Practice; US National Guidelines Clearinghouse; HMIC; The Cochrane Library; Embase; Global health; Ovid; PsychARTICLES; PsychINFO) and relevant web sources (government, professional and regional NHS websites) for clinical practice guidelines. We extracted details of key diagnostic elements such as assessment process and diagnostic tools. A qualitative narrative analysis was conducted to identify social factors and influences. Results: Twenty-one documents were found and analysed. Guidelines varied in recommendations for use of diagnostic tools and assessment procedures. Although multidisciplinary assessment was identified as the 'ideal' assessment, some guidelines suggested in practice one experienced healthcare professional was sufficient. Social factors in operational, interactional and contextual areas added complexity to guidelines but there were few concrete recommendations as to how these factors should be operationalized for best diagnostic outcomes. Conclusion: Although individual guidelines appeared to present a coherent and systematic assessment process, they varied enough in their recommendations to make the choices available to healthcare professionals particularly complex and confusing. We recommend a more explicit acknowledgement of social factors in clinical practice guidelines with advice about how they should be managed and operationalised to enable more consistency of practice and transparency for those coming for diagnosis.

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Hayes, J., Ford, T., Rafeeque, H., & Russell, G. (2018). Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder in adults and children in the UK: A narrative review. BMC Psychiatry, 18(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-018-1800-1

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