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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

ASD affects the brain and nervous system. People have a “spectrum,” or range of symptoms. 

Rethinking labels

Rethinking labels

In the past, experts believed that the spectrum showed a range of function from low to high. But it’s hard to define what “function” means. For example, a “high-functioning” person with ASD might still struggle with daily tasks, like brushing their teeth or taking the bus. It turns out that function labels may not be accurate, doing more harm than good.  

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms

Different symptoms affect people in different ways. So the symptoms vary for each person. With ASD, the brain works differently. And because of that, people may respond to things differently. ASD can affect a person’s: 

  • Social skills
  • Communication
  • Behavior

Someone with autism may prefer their own routines, or even to be alone. They may speak using pictures and sign language. Or repeat words, actions and certain movements (such as flapping). Strong reactions to sounds or noises may also be common. 

People with autism may not be able to speak or express what they want to say. Making eye contact or showing feelings like happiness may be a challenge as well.

They may have these unique traits:

  • Act like most children or adults their own age
  • Like touching or hugging people
  • Know when someone is angry or in pain
  • Answer when you call their name

Remember, not everyone will have the same traits. Our goal is look at each member as a unique person and help improve their whole health. Children and adults with ASD can get help with their special health care needs. This can improve their overall health and wellness.  

More about ASD

If you feel you or your loved one may have autism, find a provider. You don’t need a referral. Make an appointment to talk about your concerns. They can give a diagnosis. 

Families can get help from:

  • An assigned behavioral health clinic (ABHC)
  • A behavioral health home

You can choose a behavioral health clinic. This is where you get primary outpatient mental health services. Some clinics also offer physical health care. The clinical team will work with you on your goals. They’ll also provide ongoing assessment and service planning. 

Your team members will depend on the behavioral health professionals working with you. Teams can also include:

  • Family members
  • Guardians
  • Friends
  • Other supportive people from the community

Many times, the assessment from your first appointment won’t be complete. You’ll be working with your team to continue the assessment process. This allows you and your team to review progress and needs so you get the best care. The treatment plan, or Individual Service Plan (ISP), should include all the services you need, such as:

  • Housing
  • Support services
  • Counseling
  • Rides (transportation)

Your team will update the plan at least once a year, based on your needs.

Find providers

You can also check this list of ASD providers (PDF).

Need help finding a provider? Call us at ${MS_phone_1} or ${MS_phone_2} (TTY 711). We’ll help you find a provider based on:

  • Your or your child’s needs
  • Your location

Once you call them, the provider has 7 days to schedule an intake appointment. If you don’t get an appointment within 7 days, call us.

Initial intake appointment and assessment

At this appointment, the provider may ask for some info from:

  • The parent or caregiver
  • The child
  • Other family members
  • Others who know the member

Bring any info you have about the member’s:

  • Family
  • Medical history 
  • School history
  • Behaviors
  • Medicines

All of these things will help the team. It’ll make it easier for them to quickly provide the right care. 

They’ll coordinate care and make an Individual Service Plan (ISP) with more service providers, such as a Division of Developmental Disability (DDD) specialist.

After the intake appointment, a member’s first visit with their provider will take place within:

  • 21 days, for children
  • 23 days, for adults 

At this visit, you’ll decide who you want on your Child and Family Team (CFT) or Adult Recovery Team (ART). These can be providers and others who know the member.

Having a CFT/ART is a way to make sure everyone has a voice and choice in the services and supports. The goal is to find the best way to meet the needs of the member, family and caregiver. 

A provider shouldn’t add you to a waiting list for services. If they say there’s a waiting list, ask them to refer you to another provider. You can also:

  • Find a provider online
  • Call us at ${MS_phone_1} or ${MS_phone_2} (TTY 711). We’re here for you${member_services_hours}.  

There are many services for children, youth and adults with ASD. These are based on each person’s needs, like:

  • High-needs case management
  • Direct support services (including rehabilitation services)
  • Psychiatric services
  • Individual and family therapy
  • Specialty treatment
  • Respite care
  • Family support

Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) is one type of treatment for ASD. Visit our ABA page to find ABA providers.

ASD affects thousands of people in our area. People with ASD now have more options for care. 

ASD Centers of Excellence treat the whole person. They focus on the physical and behavioral health of children and adults with autism. They also help those who are at risk of ASD by providing early intervention and treatment.

We’ve picked two providers to serve as ASD Centers of Excellence:

The centers align with these principles:

Our goal is to help improve whole health for our members. The centers act as a whole-health provider, covering both physical and behavioral health. 

You can also check AHCCCS resources for members with ASD.

Or visit our community resource guide for more helpful info and links to services for ASD.


Call Member Services at ${MS_phone_1} or ${MS_phone_2} (TTY 711). We’re here for you ${member_services_hours}.