Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological disability. It affects social skills, communication and behavior. There are many levels of autism. It can mean mild challenges for someone who is ‘high functioning.’ Or, it can mean severe challenges for someone considered ‘low functioning.’ That's why it’s called a ‘spectrum’ disorder. The range of levels affects people in different ways. The symptoms vary from person to person.

A person with autism has a brain that works differently. And because of that, the way they respond to things may also be different.

You might see that someone with autism may:

  • Prefer to be alone
  • Not be able to speak
  • Not be able to express what they want to say
  • Not act like most children or adults their own age
  • Not like touching or hugging people
  • Not be able to make eye contact
  • Prefer routines
  • Repeat words, actions and certain movements (such as flapping)
  • React strongly to certain sounds or noises
  • Not be able to show feelings, like being happy
  • Not understand when someone is angry or in pain
  • Not answer when you call their name
  • Not be able to point to something  
  • Speak using pictures or sign language

Children and adults who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can get behavioral health services. These services can help improve their health and wellness. This is important to Mercy Care. We make sure our providers use evidenced-based practices. That means practices that are proven to work. We want to make sure that providers are improving an individual’s whole health.

There’s no wrong door when families and caregivers are seeking services.  Families and caregivers are able to connect with a Qualified Service Provider (QSP) or Health Home of their choice. First, call Mercy Care Member Services to get connected to a provider. When a provider has been identified, call to schedule an intake. 

When you call a provider for services, they have 7 days to schedule an intake appointment. You can call the agency with any questions. If you don’t get an appointment within 7 days, you should call Mercy Care Member Services at 602-263-3000 or toll-free 1-800-624-3879 (TTY/TDD 711).

Initial intake appointment and assessment

At this appointment, the provider will gather information. They will get it from you and the child. They’ll also talk to the child’s DDD specialist, if they have one. They will also get it from family members that are there. Or, they will also talk to other people who know the child. Bring any information you may have about the child’s family, educational, behavioral and medical history. You should also bring a list of current medicines the child is taking. All of these things will help the team. It will make it easier for them to quickly provide the right care. They’ll coordinate care and develop an Individual Service Plan (ISP) for the child.

If you feel your loved one or child may have autism, you can see a professional. There are many that can help in the list below. Make an appointment. Talk about your concerns.

Providers specializing in autism spectrum disorder 

Connecting with Mercy Care

If you’re already a member, member services can help you pick a primary provider. They’ll find a provider for you based on what you want. They’ll also consider your location. Mercy Care Member Services representatives are available to help you Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Just call 602-263-3000 or toll-free 1-800-624-3879 (TTY/TDD 711).

You can also search on your own if you want. You can find a provider by searching our online Provider Directory.

A list of providers who can provide treatment for your child is available on the Applied Behavior Analysis page.

The child’s first visit with their provider will take place within 21 days of the intake appointment. At this visit, you can help figure out who you want on your Child and Family Team (CFT). These can be providers and others who know the child.

The CFT 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 child, family and caregiver. 

The child shouldn’t be placed on a waiting list for services. If you’re told by a provider that there’s a waiting list, ask them to refer you to another provider. You can also call Mercy Care Member Services at 602-263-3000 or toll-free 1-800-624-3879 (TTY/TDD 711).

There are many services for children, adolescents and adults with autism spectrum disorder. The services are based on their individual clinical needs. They include:

  • Comprehensive and Focused Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
  • High-needs case management
  • Direct support services (including rehabilitation services)
  • Psychiatric services
  • Individual and family therapy
  • Specialty treatment
  • Respite care
  • Family support

The values and goals in the Arizona Vision and 12 Principles are at the foundation of Mercy Care's children’s system of care. 

The Arizona Vision states:

“In collaboration with the child and family and others, Arizona will provide accessible behavioral health services designed to aid children to achieve success in school, live with their families, avoid delinquency, and become stable and productive adults. Services will be tailored to the child and family and provided in the most appropriate setting, in a timely fashion and in accordance with best practices, while respecting the child‘s family‘s cultural heritage.”

The 12 Principles 

  1. Collaboration with the child and family: Respect for and collaboration with the child and family is essential to positive behavioral health outcomes. Parents and children are treated as partners and their preferences are taken seriously.
  2. Functional outcomes: Behavioral health services are designed and implemented to help children be successful in school, live with their families, avoid delinquency and become stable and productive adults.  
  3. Collaboration with others: Children with multi-agency, multi-system involvement will have a jointly established behavioral health services plan that is collaboratively implemented.
  4. Accessible services: Children will have access to a wide range of behavioral health services to ensure that they receive the treatment they need. Services will be adapted or created when they are needed but not available.
  5. Best practices: Behavioral health services are provided by competent people who are adequately trained and supervised. They are delivered according to evidence-based “best practices.” They are continually evaluated and changed, if necessary, to achieve desired outcomes.
  6. Most appropriate setting: Children are provided services in their home and community to the extent possible. Behavioral health services are provided in the most integrated setting appropriate to the child’s needs.
  7. Timeliness: Children identified as needing behavioral health services are assessed and served promptly.
  8. Services tailored to the child and family: The unique strengths and needs of children and their families determine the type, mix and intensity of services. Parents and children are encouraged to voice their strengths and needs, their goals and what services they believe are required to meet those goals.
  9. Stability: Behavioral health services strive to minimize multiple placements. Service plans identify whether a child is at risk of a placement disruption, and identify steps to minimize or eliminate that risk. Service plans anticipate crises and include specific strategies and services to be used in a crisis. Service plans anticipate and plan for transitions in children’s lives.
  10. Respect for the child and family's unique cultural heritage: Behavioral health services are provided in a manner that respects the cultural tradition of the child and family. Services are provided in Spanish to children and parents whose primary language is Spanish.
  11. Independence: Behavioral health services include support and training for parents to meet their child’s behavioral health needs. Services include support and training for children to manage their behaviors.
  12. Connection to natural supports: Natural supports will be used from the family's community network. This includes friends, neighbors and community organizations.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder now have more options for care. Two providers serve as Autism Spectrum Disorder Centers of Excellence. They are Southwest Behavioral & Health Services and Touchstone Health Services.

The Autism Spectrum Disorder Centers of Excellence treat the whole person. They focus on the physical and behavioral health of children and adults with autism. They also focus on those who are at risk of ASD. The centers will provide early intervention and treatment.

Child and Family Advisory Partnership (CFAP) Meeting
Get connected to what’s happening in the local behavioral health community. You can talk directly with providers. And, we’d like you to share your ideas on how to improve the children’s system of care. You can enjoy dinner and meet other families. Spanish interpretation and child watch provided. Call 602-288-0155 to pre-register email Mercy Care’s Office of Individual and Family Affairs at

Upcoming meetings are posted our events page and our Facebook page.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Forum for Children, Youth and Caregivers
Learn about the behavioral health services for children and youth at risk or diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These services are for their families and caretakers, too. We’ll talk about finding the right care. We’ll talk about getting around barriers to care. You can learn about getting support for you and your family. We’d also like to hear your ideas about how to improve the system of care. You can enjoy dinner and meet other families. We provide Spanish interpretation.

Upcoming meetings are posted our events page and our Facebook page.


Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center

Autism Speaks

Raising Special Kids

Center for Autism and Related Disorders

Autism Society of Greater Phoenix

Valley of the Sun Autism Network

Arizona Autism Support

Arizona Autism Coalition

AZ Assist

Family Center for Autism

Arizona Department of Education

National Autism Center