“Know Your Children, Who They Are, Their Weakness, and Their Strongest Point”: A Qualitative Study on Diné Parent Experiences Accessing Autism Services for Their Children

Olivia J. Lindly, Davis E. Henderson, Christine B. Vining, Candi L. Running Bear, Sara S. Nozadi, Shannon Bia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background and Objective: Marked inequities in access to autism services and related health outcomes persist for U.S. children, undermining broader initiatives to advance the population’s health. At the intersection of culture, poverty, and ruralness little remains known about autism in many Indigenous communities. This qualitative study on the lived experiences of Navajo (Diné) parents raising a child with autism sought to identify factors affecting access to services. Methods: A Diné researcher conducted in-depth interviews with 15 Diné parents of children with autism living in or around the Navajo Nation. A directed content analysis approach was used to identify themes, subthemes, and connections between themes. Results: Twelve overarching themes emerged on Diné parents’ experiences accessing autism diagnostic and treatment services, as well as ways access to autism services can be improved. The following themes were related to diagnosis: the diagnostic process was often emotionally fraught; long wait times of up to years for diagnostic services were commonplace; limited clinician training and cultural humility impeded access to diagnostic services; and adequate health insurance, Indian Health Service referrals, care coordination, financial aid for travel, and efficient evaluation facilitated diagnosis. Themes on treatment access were as follows: parent perceptions of the extent to which an autism service helped their child affected access; social support helped parents to access treatment; obtaining referrals and care coordination influenced treatment access; treatment costs affected access; and service availability and geographic proximity impacted treatment access. Themes on ways to improve access to autism services were as follows: greater autism awareness is needed; autism-focused support groups may be helpful; and increased availability and quality of autism services across and around the Navajo Nation is paramount. Conclusions: Diné parents’ access to autism services was dynamically affected by sociocultural factors that must be addressed in future health equity-oriented initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5523
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Diné
  • Indigenous
  • Navajo
  • Southwest
  • United States
  • autism spectrum disorder
  • diagnosis
  • services
  • treatment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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