Autism: Frequently Asked Questions

An adult and child walk hand in hand.

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.

Understanding autism

What is autism spectrum disorder?

Autism is not one condition. It is a spectrum, or range, of communication and behavior patterns. A child with autism may:

  • Show different ways of communicating, playing or interacting with others.
  • Repeat or insist on certain behaviors.
  • Be highly sensitive to lights, noises or textures.
  • Show rare strengths, such as learning about things in great detail.
  • We can work with you to learn about your child and find out whether an autism diagnosis is appropriate for your child.

What causes autism?

Researchers don’t know exactly what causes autism. It may result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. OHSU researchers have found that changes in a gene involved in brain function may be linked to autism.

Children may be more likely to develop autism if they have a parent or sibling with autism. Other factors include:

  • Birth parents in their 40s or older
  • Genetic conditions such as Down syndrome
  • Very low birth weight

Who gets autism?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 36 8-year-old children in the United States has autism. The CDC focuses on 8-year-olds because most children with autism have been diagnosed by that age.

The CDC has recorded a sharp increase in autism diagnoses over the past 20 years. Doctors and scientists aren’t sure why. Children are diagnosed with autism across racial, ethnic and economic lines.

What are common signs and traits of autism?

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

At what age is autism usually diagnosed?

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.

Why are autism rates rising?

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.

Where can I learn more about autism?

What to do while waiting for an evaluation

How do I find screening and early intervention or education?

Oregon and Washington counties offer free evaluation and screening for young children. Children can also receive free services to build social/emotional, thinking, movement and communication skills.

Multnomah County: 503-261-5535
Lane County: 541-346-2578
Washington County: 503-614-1299
Clackamas County: 503-675-4097

Marion County: 503-385-4714
Linn/Benton County: 541-753-1202 x106
All counties

ESD 112 (Clark, Klickitat, Pacific and Skamania Counties): 360-750-7500
Cowlitz County: 360-414-5599

Learn more:

The federal government funds free early education programs for children who qualify:

  • Early Head Start (ages 0-2)
  • Head Start (ages 3-5)

How can my child’s doctor help?

You can 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. If your child is experiencing emotional or behavioral challenges, do not wait to seek help from a mental health professional. Your child’s doctor can help if you’re not sure where to begin.

Once you have an evaluation, you can continue any services, switch to services at OHSU, or continue with a mix.

What school services are available?

Your child does not need an autism diagnosis to receive school services. The school will do its own evaluation. Ask your child’s school about special education support for details.

For help getting school-based services, contact:

What support groups are available?

You don’t need an autism diagnosis to join groups. Find information and support through these organizations. You can also contact your Parks and Recreation department to ask about adaptive or inclusive recreation.

All ages:

Children and families:

Teens and adults:

OHSU services

Do you do second opinions or re-evaluations?

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.

Do you offer virtual visits?

We offer in-person or virtual visits based on the reason for your visit and your child’s age and developmental stage.

How much does an autism evaluation cost? Does insurance cover the cost?

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.

How do we prepare for our visit?

  • 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.

Can you help with language, travel or lodging?

OHSU offers:

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.

For patients

Questions? Call:


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

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