Accessing Services for Autism Spectrum Disorder
Many children with developmental delays or behavior concerns are not identified as early as possible. As a result, these children must wait to get the help they need to do well in social and educational settings (for example, in school, at home, and in the community). By the time they are identified, significant delays may have occurred and opportunities for intervention might have been missed. Getting services as early as possible can make a difference in the development of a child with ASD or other developmental problems.
Early Intervention Services – Ages 0-3 years
Research shows that early intervention services can greatly improve a child’s development and result in better outcomes [1-4]. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old learn important skills. Services include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has ASD or other developmental problem. However, a referral from a physician is not necessary to request an evaluation and, if indicated, receive services. It is possible for a parent to self-refer.
If you think your child may have a developmental delay related or unrelated to autism, he or she may be eligible for early intervention services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)external icon says that children under the age of 3 years who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state or territory. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.
In addition, treatment for specific symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often does not need to wait for a formal ASD diagnosis. While early intervention is extremely important, intervention at any age can be helpful.
Special Education Services – Ages 3-22 years
Children with disabilities, including ASD, may be eligible for services through the local education system beginning at age 3 years. Children with ASD often have an Individualized Education Planexternal icon (IEP) or a 504 planexternal icon. Eligible children can begin to receive services prior to formally starting school, even if the child has not been diagnosed with ASD.
If you are concerned about your child, contact your local public school system. Even if your child is not yet old enough for kindergarten or enrolled in a public school, you can call your local elementary school or board of education and ask to speak with someone who can help you have your child evaluated. This is sometimes called a “Child Find” evaluation. You do not need to wait for a doctor’s referral or medical diagnosis to make this call. If you are not sure who to contact, call the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA) at #919-962-2001, or visit the ECTA websiteexternal icon.
- Hyman SL, Levey SE, Myers SM, Council on Children with Disabilities, Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. Identification, Evaluation, and Management of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder. Peditarics. 2020 Jan;145(1).
- Dawson, G., et al., Randomized, controlled trial of an intervention for toddlers with autism: the Early Start Denver Model. Pediatrics, 2010. 125(1): p. e17-23.
- Reaven, J., et al., Group cognitive behavior therapy for children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorders and anxiety: a randomized trial. J Child Psychol Psychiatry, 2012. 53(4): p. 410-9.
- Reichow, B., et al., Early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI) for young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2018. 5: p. CD009260.