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.

We work with the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and providers to deliver the best care.

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 RBHA 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 RBHA Member Services at 602‑586‑1841 or toll‑free 1‑800‑564‑5465; (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.

Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosing Providers

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.

Here's a list of providers who can provide treatment for your child.

Applied Behavioral Analysis Providers English | Spanish

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 RBHA Member Services at 602‑586‑1841 or toll‑free 1‑800‑564‑5465; (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. Read the read the full text of the Arizona Vision and 12 Principles (PDF).


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects thousands of people in our area.

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder now have more options for care. As part of our Mercy 360 Community initiative, we’ve picked two providers to serve as Autism Spectrum Disorder Centers of Excellence. They are Southwest Behavioral & Health Services and Touchstone Health Services.

Mercy 360 Community is part of our community reinvestment plan. We’re investing in “social determinants” of health. These are things like how we work, live and play. By improving these things, we can help improve quality of life.

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. The centers are set to open this summer.

The centers will align with the following principles:

  • Arizona Vision
  • Arizona Twelve Principles
  • Guiding Principles for Recovery-Oriented Adult Behavioral Health Services and Systems
  • Patient Centered Medical Home principles
  • Best practices for ASD (American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry)

We’re breaking down barriers to ASD care. We want to make sure that those with ASD can use the centers as their whole-health provider.

Arizona Autism United 5025 E. Washington St., Ste. 212 Phoenix, AZ 85034 602-773-5776

Child & Family Support Services, Inc. (CFSS) 10439 S. 51st Ave., Ste. 100 Phoenix, AZ 85004 480-635-9944

Hope Group Phoenix Office 4530 E Muirwood Dr., Ste. 103 Phoenix, AZ 85048 480-610-6981 

MARC Community Resources, Inc. 422 W. Ivyglen St. Mesa, AZ 85201 480- 969-3800

Open Hearts Family Wellness 4414 N. 19th Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85015 602-285-5550, ext.400  

S.E.E.K Arizona 1830 S. Alma School Rd., Ste. 130 Mesa, AZ 85210 480-902-0771

Southwest Behavioral Health Services 11221 N. 28th Dr. Phoenix, AZ 85029 602-997-2233

1255 W. Baseline Dr.  Mesa, AZ 85202 480-820-5422   

Southwest Human Development 2850 N. 24th St. Phoenix, AZ 85008 602-266-5976

Terros Health D2 Crisis and Prevention Support Team 3003 N. Central Ave., Ste. 200 Phoenix, AZ 85012 602-302-7810

Touchstone Health Services 15648 N. 35th Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85053 1-866-207-3882

Unique Family Services 5010 E. Warner Rd., Ste. 107 Phoenix, AZ 85044 480-865-2640

Connecting you to resources and care

Child and Family Advisory Partnership (CFAP) Community Forum The CFAP forums are a place for families, parents and guardians to get together. At the forums, you can learn what’s happening in the behavioral health community. You can talk with providers. And, you can share your ideas with Mercy Care on how to improve children’s services. You can enjoy dinner. You can meet other families. Spanish interpretation and child watch are available.


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