Pediatric Autism

A wooden stacking toy made of rings and an egg.

The autism team at OHSU’s Child Development and Rehabilitation Center takes a whole-person approach to diagnosing your child and connecting your family with services in your community. Families from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California travel to us for our:

  • Expertise in assessing autism characteristics and behaviors.
  • Deep experience: we work with about 1,000 children a year, more than any other autism clinic in Oregon and southwest Washington.
  • Leadership in autism research.

Families who come to our clinic may be:

  • Wondering if an autism diagnosis is appropriate for their child.
  • Managing autism and other chronic (ongoing) health needs.
  • Planning for an older teen to get services to live as an adult with autism.

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.

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

Refer a patient

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

Autism rates

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 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 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.

Autism services at OHSU


To evaluate your child, we need a referral from your child’s doctor to CDRC, part of OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

We have a waitlist of two to 12 months, depending on your child’s age and needs. We know this is frustrating, and we will see your child as soon as possible.


There are no tests for autism spectrum disorder. Instead, we:

  • Spend time with children to see how they are growing and learn about their strengths and challenges.
  • Have children play games or do activities to see how they communicate and interact with people.

After the evaluation, we will talk about what we have learned and help connect you with resources in your community.

Our specialists

All of our specialists:

  • Have experience working with autistic children.
  • Evaluate children with methods based on scientific evidence.

You will see specialists trained to work with your child’s age group:

  • Toddlers
  • Preschool
  • School age
  • Teen (up to 18)

Our specialists are experts in:

What to expect

At your first appointment, we will talk with you and evaluate your child.

We will discuss:

  • Your goals for the evaluation
  • Support your child and family need
  • Testing your child has had
  • Possible reasons for your child’s strengths and challenges
  • Whether our clinic is the best fit for your child


  • We will use games and activities to see how your child thinks and talks.
  • We will watch your child play to understand their behavior and growth.

Next steps:

  • We will talk about whether an autism diagnosis fits your child’s needs and recommend ways to support your family.

Project Impact

Project Impact is a parent coaching program at OHSU for families with children who have autism, suspected autism or other social communication challenges. The program works to improve children’s skills in:

  • Communicating
  • Playing
  • Imitating
  • Interacting with others

Families have 10 to 12 one-hour visits with an occupational therapist, speech-language pathologist or social worker. Visits can take place:

  • At Doernbecher Children’s Hospital or Doernbecher’s Cornell West clinic in Beaverton.
  • In a virtual visit with a secure online link.

Project Impact uses ideas from applied behavior analysis therapy but is not ABA therapy.

To take part in the program, ask your child’s doctor for a referral.

Our research

We are among more than 30 hospitals and universities taking part in SPARK, a national research effort sponsored by the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative.

Our experts also do research on:

  • Early autism detection and screening
  • The genetics of autism
  • Social factors that affect the health of people with autism

Learn more about our autism research.

Learn more

Learning to connect

Hannah Sanford-Keller, an OHSU speech-language pathologist, smiles as she holds a patient, Hawk Lamb. He is looking down and sucking on a lollipop.

Hannah Sanford-Keller, one of the experts in our autism clinic, helped Hawk Lamb and his family form stronger connections.