Professional Views in Working with Children with ASD in Lithuania
Objectives: The present research was conducted to further explore the experiences of professionals and their perceptions, knowledge’s and attitudes about ASD and parental stressors while raising a child with ASD in Lithuania
Methods: Due to lack of research in this area in Lithuania, the qualitative methodology was used to explore the existing issues in-depth. Professional’s attitudes and perceptions were explored via focus group discussions (FGD), which are a social method of obtaining research data through informal group discussions on a specific topic. In order to maximise the diversity of experiences informing the investigation a range of professional’s subpopulations were identified: general practitioner vs specialised, mainstream school teacher’s vs specialised school teachers, experienced vs less experienced, highly exposed to ASD vs less exposed to ASD, knowledgeable about ASD vs novice, rural vs urban. The sample consisted of total 42 people (N=7 general practitioners, N=7 ASD medical assessors, N=8 specialised urban school teachers, N=6 mainstream rural teachers, N=7 mainstream urban teachers).
Results: The key themes mentioned across groups were: knowledge and perception of ASD; process of diagnosis, the complexity of relationship between parents and professionals, integration, training and resources, stigma and society. There were multiple discrepancies found in aspects of care, diagnosis, education and resources, thus divided into different themes or domains concurrently. The comments reported here represent the lives of parents of a child with ASD and portrayed the difficulties and benefits they experienced while having a child with ASD in Lithuania.
In summary, there was agreement between medical professionals and parents on many issues, such as the need for future improvements with regard to help after diagnosis. Also, participants agreed on the levels of stigma in Lithuanian society and how destructive it is to the families. However, there was some discrepancy in transfer of information between the medical professionals and parents for next steps after diagnosis. Knowledge of ASD symptomology in young children should be the focus of GPs to help refer children early.
Also, experiences of parents indicated the need to equip mainstream school teachers in methods to work with children with ASD. It also highlighted the pressing issue of integration and the preparation that needs to take place for such people to be part of mainstream school. It was reported that parents worried and struggled when dealing with school administration and teachers. Government should aim at increased awareness on ASD to the general public to reduce stigma.