Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Barriers, Facilitators, and Adaptations to Autism Support Services for Lower Income Aotearoa New Zealand Families

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posted on 2024-05-20, 06:55 authored by Carla Wallace-WatkinCarla Wallace-Watkin

Classified as a form of neurodivergence, autism is recognised as consisting of differences in sensory and cognitive processing, social interactions, and preferences for routine and structure. Research suggests that the provision of autism early support services is associated with a range of beneficial outcomes for autistic children and their whānau (family). Ideally, the needs of each individual family and child would dictate access to such support services. However, lower financially resourced families with an autistic child appear to face several barriers to receiving support services. Literature examining the adaptation of pre-existing early autism supports to address disparities in access and participation is limited. Utilisation of methods such as research-community partnerships to inform such adaptations is also rare. More research is needed to understand the barriers and facilitative factors lower financially resourced families may experience when seeking to access and/or participate in autism support services for their autistic child. Such research may then inform the adaptation of autism support services to increase accessibility, and therefore improve equity within autism service systems.

The present thesis consists of three empirical studies. Study 1 assessed the barriers and facilitators Aotearoa New Zealand parents reported experiencing when accessing and/or participating in support services for their autistic child. Study 2 utilised a research-community partnership approach to explore the experiences of five lower financially resourced Aotearoa New Zealand parents who had accessed an autism support service, the Early Start Denver Model. Results informed the development of a set of adaptations to improve the accessibility of this service. Study 3 consisted of piloting the adapted support programme with one lower financially resourced whānau (family). Study 1 results suggested that lower income families experienced a significantly greater number of barriers, and experienced those barriers to a greater extent, than families who were higher income. The results of study 2 identified several facilitative factors and barriers to the Early Start Denver Model programme, with both parents and community partners providing a broad range of ideas for possible adaptations. Results from study 3 suggest that adaptations to support services which target the needs of lower financially resourced families may indeed be useful for improving accessibility of such services.

Collectively, the results of these studies indicate that lower financially resourced families experience a range of barriers to autism support services for their children, but also several facilitative factors. Both parents and providers have ideas of ways in which service access and participation could be improved. Through applying such ideas to the adaptation of pre-existing early autism support services, it appears as though accessibility of such programmes may be improved for lower financially resourced. Future research further examining the impacts of adapted services on autistic children and their whānau would be beneficial.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Educational Psychology

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

280109 Expanding knowledge in education; 280121 Expanding knowledge in psychology; 200204 Health inequalities; 200399 Provision of health and support services not elsewhere classified

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


Waddington, Hannah; Sigafoos, Jeff