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California State University Fullerton
Center for Autism Applied Developmental Core

Information About Autism

The following are some brief answers to commonly asked questions about autism. For more information, please see an excellent, in-depth discussion by Autism Speaks at http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism

What is “autism spectrum disorder (ASD)”?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the new term used to describe a cluster of diagnostic categories that were previously referred to as Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified. ASD is characterized by significant difficulty in social communication and the presence of repetitive or restricted behaviors and/or interests. ASD occurs more frequently in boys than girls and recent reports place the prevalence of ASD at 1 in 68 children (Center for Disease Control & Prevention, 2014).

What causes ASD?

Little is known about the causes of ASD, and there are likely several contributing factors. Increased rates of ASD among family members and certain other research findings suggest that genetic, prenatal, and/or perinatal factors may contribute to the presence of ASD for some children. The rates of ASD diagnoses have increased dramatically over time. Studies suggest that a portion of this increase is likely accounted for by rising public awareness and improved diagnostic methods.

How early can autism be detected?

Methods for detecting ASD or signs of ASD in very young children have greatly improved in recent years. Although many major signs of autism tend to emerge in the toddler period, leading methods for autism detection can be employed for children as young as 12 months and efforts are underway to develop additional diagnostic strategies for infants. Early detection is important, as intervention early in life can be key to promoting the development of children with ASD.

How can I find out if my child has autism?

ASD diagnosis can be provided by a number of different professionals with expertise in autism, including clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, and other medical doctors. Methods considered to represent the gold standard in autism diagnosis include direct testing and observation of the child accompanied by structured interviews with the parents or primary caregivers regarding autism symptoms. Measures should be administered by highly trained clinicians with expertise in autism diagnosis. Please contact us at autismcenterkids@fullerton.edu or (657)-278-7891 if you are interested in an obtaining an evaluation through our Center

What can I do if my child is diagnosed with autism?

If your child has received a diagnosis of an ASD, many treatment and educational options are available. Many services may be provided or funded by private insurance, non-public agencies, school districts, or state agencies such as the Regional Centers. See below for further discussion. We recommend consulting the Autism Speaks “Tool Kits”, a comprehensive guide for families of newly diagnosed children.

What kinds of services are available for children with autism?

There are many treatments, interventions, and educational services available for children with ASD. Research support for the effectiveness of these services varies, with the strongest evidence in place for Early Intensive Behavioral Interventions (EIBI), based on Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). Many children receive home-based EIBI services in conjunction with speech therapy, occupational therapy, and school involvement.

What is Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI)/Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)?

Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI) uses principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) to organize interaction and teaching in ways that tend to increase learning in children with ASD. These services are often very intensive (i.e., for 25-40 hours per week), with many hours taking place one-on-one in the home setting. Many EIBI therapists who work in the home will also serve as school shadows for the child. Children’s response to EIBI differs, with evidence suggesting that EIBI can have very positive effects for a portion of children treated, can substantially improve the functioning of another large portion of children, and may not produce as much change for some children. Despite the high cost of these services, analyses strongly suggest that investment in EIBI services early in life produces considerable savings over time. Information about an interview with the Center Co-Directors regarding the cost-benefit discussion of ABA.

As early identification of ASD has improved and children are receiving diagnoses at younger ages, there has been considerable interest in adapting traditional EIBI programs to include greater developmental emphasis. EIBI (ABA) programs include these developmental strategies to varying degrees. One such “hybrid” program, The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), has recently garnered empirical support for its effectiveness. Scholarly article on the ESDM available here.

How do I get in touch with service providers?

Autism Speaks provides a national search system for families. Local families can visit our Resource Links page.

How do I establish services through the schools?

Parents can establish educational services for their children through the school districts by requesting an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP will include timely assessment of your child and educational planning. Please see our Clinical & Family Service page for information on upcoming workshops and individual assistance. http://www.wrightslaw.com is also an online resource that provides information about IEP planning and parents’ educational rights.

What is a Regional Center and how can they help?

Regional Centers are community agencies designed to serve young children with special needs. Depending upon the age and needs of your child, certain services may be available directly through your local Regional Center, and/or the Regional Center may provide funding for additional services. If you live in Orange County, you can find your local Regional Center here.

How do I get funding for Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (a.k.a., ABA)?

Funding for EIBI/ABA services has tended to come from families (i.e., “out-of-pocket”), school districts, Regional Centers, private insurance, or a combination of the above. Recent insurance reform in California (SB 946) has extended private insurance coverage for EIBI/ABA for some families. For assistance in determining if your insurance might cover EIBI/ABA, please contact us at autismcenterkids@fullerton.edu or (657)-278-7891.

Who can help me through this process?

We can! Please contact us at autismcenterkids@fullerton.edu or (657)-278-7891 for assistance.