Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Anisa Goforth

Commitee Members

Christine Fiore, Cameo Stanick, Jacqueline Brown, Lindsey Nichols


assessment, autism spectrum disorder, diagnosis, implementation science, trauma


University of Montana


The pervasiveness of trauma exposure and potential effects on children’s development and both proximal and future health outcomes are well established in the research literature. Importantly, there is increasing recognition that children with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), might be at heightened risk for trauma exposure and trauma-related health outcomes. However, there is a paucity of research on trauma-informed practices with children with ASD, specifically the assessment methods used to evaluate for the presence of trauma exposure and trauma-related sequelae. While there are guidelines for the diagnostic assessment of ASD, there are no known established guidelines or research regarding trauma assessment in children being evaluated for ASD. The purpose of this project was to use qualitative research methodology to explore whether (and if so, how) trauma exposure and trauma-related sequelae are evaluated during ASD diagnostic evaluations through interviewing psychologists who conduct multidisciplinary ASD diagnostic evaluations. This project also sought to determine what factors might affect the likelihood that trauma assessment is integrated into the ASD diagnostic process. While the majority of participants identified that they considered trauma during ASD diagnostic evaluations, most engaged in trauma screening and referred out for additional evaluation to aid in differential diagnosis. Commonly identified barriers to engaging in trauma assessment ranged from individual (e.g., knowledge) to clinic (e.g., available resources) to system (e.g., the diagnostic system) level factors. In order to increase the use of trauma assessment by psychologists in ASD diagnostic clinics, adaptations across each of these levels will be needed.


© Copyright 2019 Kaitlyn Page Ahlers