What you need to know about symptoms, behaviors, tests and more
Here are answers to autism questions we often get at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center (CDRC), part of OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital.
A child might have autism if they:
- Have trouble interacting or talking with other people
- Often repeat behaviors, movements or speech patterns
- Insist on routines and resist changes
- Have narrow, intense interests
- React strongly or not at all to sounds, lights or other sensations
Researchers don’t know what causes the conditions that make up autism spectrum disorder. A mix of genetics and environmental factors may lead to autism.
Children may be more likely to have autism if they have a parent or sibling with autism. Other factors include:
- Birth parents who were in their 40s or older when the child was born
- Genetic conditions such as Down syndrome
- Very low birth weight
On average, children are diagnosed with autism around age 4. At OHSU, we see children by age group, with specialists who have expertise in that age group.
Doctors and scientists aren’t sure why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded a sharp increase in autism in recent decades.
OHSU researchers looked at data since 2000 and found many ways of diagnosing autism in the United States and throughout the world. That makes it hard to tell if more people have autism or if it’s just being diagnosed more often.
More awareness of autism might be a factor. Researchers also found that autism rates have increased along with services for students with autism.
According to the CDC, about 1 in 44 8-year-old children in the United States has autism. The CDC focuses on 8-year-olds because most children with autism are getting services by that age.
Children are diagnosed with autism across racial, ethnic and economic lines.
An evaluation may help if you are concerned that your child:
- Has trouble talking
- Ignores or avoids other people
- Has unusual reactions to how things or places feel, look, smell, sound or taste
- Has limited or repeated behaviors
- Is behind on the skills they should have for their age
Evaluations can help families understand what might drive certain behaviors. If your child is diagnosed with autism, we can help your child learn communication and social skills to reach their full potential. We can connect you with specialists in:
- Feeding and swallowing, for eating issues
- Gastroenterology, for stomach and digestive problems
- Genetics and birth defects
- Neurology, for care of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system
- Occupational therapy, for help with daily life
- Physical therapy, for movement and mobility
- Psychology, for mental health support
- Sleep problems
- Speech-language pathology, for communication
- Social work, for resources for your family
If we do not think your child has autism, we:
- Talk about what else may explain your child’s strengths and challenges.
- Give you resources and referrals to other specialists in children’s behavior and health.
We start with a referral from your child’s doctor.
Then we ask you to:
- Fill out intake forms.
- Share your child’s IEP (individual education plan) or 504 plan at school.
- Have your child’s teacher fill out a questionnaire.
School paperwork: If you can’t get your child’s IEP or 504 plan and teacher questionnaire because your child’s school is closed for break, call or email your school district office. If you don’t get a quick response, call the CDRC and we will help you. We can’t schedule your child’s visit until we have all their materials.
Once we have all the materials, your child goes on a waitlist. Typical wait times are:
- Ages 1 to 2: Two to four months.
- Ages 3 to 4: Four to eight months.
- Ages 5 and older: Seven to 13 months.
We know the wait can be hard. We will see your child as soon as we can.
Contact your local Education Service District: Ask about testing or learning ideas.
Get support for a child up to age 5 through:
- Early Intervention or Early Childhood Special Education programs
- Early Head Start or Head Start programs
Contact your child’s school: Ask about special education support. These groups can help with school-based services:
Ask your child’s doctor for a therapy referral: If you have insurance, your insurer can help you find providers who can help with your child with:
- Communication and social skills
- Daily living and movement skills
- Differences in reacting to sights, smells, sounds, tastes and textures
- Behavioral and mental health
Contact a support group: Find support groups through:
- Oregon Center for Children & Youth With Special Health Needs
- Oregon Family-to-Family Health Information Center
- Autism Society of Oregon
- FACT Oregon Support Line
Contact your local Parks and Recreation department: Ask about adaptive or inclusive recreation.
No. We have a long waitlist for children who need a first visit. The Autism Society of Oregon has a directory of other Oregon and Washington providers.
We offer in-person or virtual visits based on the reason for your visit and your child’s age and developmental stage.
Cost: This depends on:
- How long our team spends with your child.
- How many specialists see your child.
We can connect you with a managed care coordinator to discuss the likely cost.
Private insurance: We work with most private insurance plans, but each is different. We suggest contacting your insurer before your visit to make sure that:
- Your plan covers our services.
- We are in your insurer’s network.
- You can get authorizations in advance.
Oregon Health Plan/Medicaid: OHSU’s Financial and Medicaid Services office helps patients who might qualify for state and/or federal assistance.
- Please arrange child care for other children in your household. Some visits last up to a day, and we do not provide child care.
- Bring one or two of your child’s favorite toys.
- Bring snacks and drinks for your child, especially if they have a special diet.
- Talk with your child about what to expect at their visit:
- Spending time with our specialists.
- Playing games and doing activities.
Language services: You can have an interpreter for your visit. Let us know a few days in advance.
Travel help: We can connect you with a social worker for help with travel costs or lodging.
OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, seventh floor
700 S.W. Campus Drive
Portland, OR 97239
Child Development and Rehabilitation Center, Eugene
901 E. 18th Ave.
Eugene, OR 97403
Free parking for patients and visitors