What is Autism?

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is exactly that – a spectrum – that leads to unique strengths and challenges for each individual.

What is the clinical definition of Autism?

While the range of autism is broad and the term means something different to everyone, it is still important to understand the scientific definition so children can be properly diagnosed and receive the care they need for a better life. In clinical terms, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological, developmental disorder that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges. ASD is one diagnosis that ranges from low-functioning autism to high-functioning autism. In the past, Asperger’s Syndrome was commonly viewed as a separate diagnosis, but the current definition includes it along the spectrum.

What does it look like? In a child, it could be difficulties communicating or socializing with others, paired with restrictive or repetitive behaviors, interests or activities that tend to get in the way of other important skills.

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Do you think your child may show signs of autism?

When a child begins to exhibit behaviors that cause concern or indicate challenges, families and caregivers need someone they can trust for help and support without judgement.

If you think autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or a developmental delay may be a reality in your child’s life, there is hope. We are here to help you every step of the way; providing specialized services for children 15 months to 10 years of age. Hopebridge’s compassionate, licensed psychologists and therapists have earned the trust of hundreds of pediatricians, schools and families.

Not sure where to start? Talk to your pediatrician and slide through the steps above to navigate the process from obtaining a diagnosis to receiving the care your child needs to lead the life he or she deserves.

View Obtain a diagnosis

Get a referral to determine a diagnosis

Behaviors or challenges your child experiences may or may not be related to autism, but there is one thing in which all experts agree: early identification is key.

Every person with ASD experiences different challenges and abilities, so diagnosing isn’t black and white. Observe and take note of your child’s developmental milestones, lack thereof, regressions and any other behaviors that worry you. Discuss these with your pediatrician and if you still have concerns, have them write a referral for a diagnostic evaluation. Have patience throughout this process, but be persistent.

Evidence shows that the earlier development is evaluated, the greater the chance a child has to reach his or her potential. Knowing this, Hopebridge provides some of the quickest answers in the area – in as little as 45 days! We can diagnose autism in toddlers as young as 15 months, so if there are behaviors or delays that concern you, don’t wait. You can schedule an appointment with a member of our Hopebridge Diagnostics Team, which offers thorough, insurance-recognized assessments. Once we receive a referral from the physician, we contact you within 48 business hours to verify basic information and get the process moving.

To find out more about Hopebridge’s assessment options and schedule an appointment, reach out through our Contact page or call us at (855) 324-0885.

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Craft a custom plan of care

We don’t treat a diagnosis. We treat your child. Finding out whether your child has autism is imperative in guiding our direction for therapy services, but simply knowing does not overcome his or her struggles.

Autism has so many different faces. Each kid has unique challenges and abilities. We take this into consideration and teach across a spectrum, from low-functioning to high-functioning autism. We aim to embrace everyone under the ASD diagnosis, which is now also inclusive of what was previously known as Asperger’s Syndrome. At Hopebridge, each child has his or her own team of talented, passionate professionals with a commitment to create a plan of care tailored for each individual.

Individuals with ASD often have needs that will benefit from ABA, speech, feeding and occupational therapy. As as a result, we typically perform ABA, speech and OT evaluations to discover targeted areas for intervention. The comprehensive behavioral and skills assessments ensure goals are selected based on your child’s chronological age and developmental needs. Whether that be potty-training in the short term or setting him or her up for preschool in the long term, we use these results to develop a plan to get there.

With multiple coordinated therapies and natural environmental possibilities under one roof, our team collaborates to develop the most effective mix within a Hopebridge Individualized Treatment Plan (ITP) for each family. Frequency and duration of therapy is determined based on the results of the evaluation, but we follow the guidelines of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board, which recommend 20 to 40 hours of ABA per week to provide the best possible chance of success and independence.

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Receive insurance authorization for autism therapy

Hopebridge accepts nearly all private insurance plans and Medicaid to make therapy accessible for the widest possible range of families. Because therapy coverage varies by plan, our full-service insurance team provides support from start to finish to make sure your child is eligible for Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy).

To be accepted by insurance, the diagnosis must include Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) scoring or other testing to indicate the level of severity, which is always part of the evaluations we offer at Hopebridge. Our Care and Benefits Team can work with you to contact your child’s insurance company to obtain the proper approval for an evaluation.

From there, we work directly with the insurance company to obtain authorization for therapy services. Once your child’s physician approves the plan, a Care and Benefits Coordinator can help dissect your coverage to determine the final cost.

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Start the therapy your child needs to thrive

Once the logistics are cleared, that’s when the fun begins. With our center-based Hopebridge360™ model, your child will receive one-on-one attention through ABA’s evidence-based practices blended with other crucial services, like occupational and speech therapies.

All programs are developed and overseen by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), but directed by parents’ input on goals. For instance, want to prepare your child for school or learn to socialize with other children? We have the experience, time and resources to start small and build our way up. Our therapists begin with one-on-one skills, then can slowly work up to parallel play, interactive play and even mock classroom-like settings. Your child will have access to on-site clinical support, which ensures safe responses to prevent, minimize and manage behavioral challenges.

Once objectives are set and plans are implemented, progress is monitored and programmatic changes are determined with help from data evaluation. Your child’s goals and progress are personally reviewed with you every 90 days. Parent education and home programming are also offered to enhance the benefits of therapy.

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Receive support through the transition process

These kiddos hold special places in our hearts forever, but it is never our intent to keep them in our centers forever. Our happiest days are those in which our little learners transition out of their programs and onto new adventures.

Just like the children we work with, transitions fall along a broad spectrum. They are goal-driven and timelines vary. Gaining independence and catching up on developmentally age-appropriate skills are usually strong signs kids are ready to grow into the next phase. For some, this means evolving from full time to part time therapy in the center. For others, it’s progressing into preschool, kindergarten or another grade level, either in special education or regular education classrooms.

No matter which route they take, our therapists not only help them get there, but support families throughout the transition process. Regular check-ins with parents, schools and physicians are available to ensure long-term success.

The journey doesn’t end here. This is just the beginning of a beautiful life, here at Hopebridge, home and beyond.

Autism isn’t contagious, but my smile is

ASD is not something that can be “cured” with medication. Instead, our combination of ABA, occupational and speech therapies is proven to produce outcomes that build foundational skills and minimize interfering behaviors.

Hopebridge is trusted by pediatricians and schools for more than a decade of experience in providing the most effective, dependable care for kids with autism and a variety of challenges across a spectrum, including (but not limited to):

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Developmental delays
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS)
  • Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS)
  • Hearing impairments
  • Feeding challenges
  • Difficulty understanding or expressing language
  • Sensory-processing difficulties
  • Poor coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Visual perceptual and visual motor challenges
  • Attention and regulation difficulties

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What are the common autism myths?

ASD does not make a person any more or less intelligent and it isn’t an illness others can “catch.” In your quest for more information on autism, it’s crucial to speak to reputable providers and research credible sites. There is a lot of misinformation floating around, so we wrote about the most common autism misconceptions to help you navigate the truth.

The autism diagnosis may seem like a “label,” but it does not define a person. Learning a loved one is on the spectrum can be nerve-wracking, but that discovery is also the first step (and often the hardest) toward unveiling this child’s world and possibilities to prepare them for school and beyond.

Importance of Early Identification of Autism

Simply put, the faster you identify whether your child has autism, the faster you can intervene with effective treatments to lay the foundation for a more fulfilling life (for each of you!).

The brain is most easily shaped within an individual’s first 7 years of life, making the power of learning incredibly greater in those first several years. It is especially important to take advantage of this time period (starting with toddlers as young as 15 months!) from the standpoint of language development, as well as to build other critical skills that allow them to gain independence and improve overall quality of life.

In addition to optimizing learning from a young age, early identification and early intensive behavioral interventions like Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA therapy) are key to catching impeding behaviors before they become habit. Whether or not your kiddo’s behaviors or delays are related to autism, the sooner you find out, the sooner you put your own mind at ease and get them real help.

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What is the Biggest Challenge Presented to Kids Diagnosed with Autism?

Preparing for School and Other Life Skills

Children who have autism present special challenges in the educational system. Many schools we work with are eager to serve students with ASD, however the kids may not have the skills the schools require, and the schools may not be equipped with the services they need to succeed. With our center-based therapy model at Hopebridge, we don’t wish to replace school, but rather, prepare kids for the classroom.

Studies show children with ASD who receive at least two to four years of early intensive behavioral interventions, like ABA therapy, have much higher chances at success in regular education classrooms than those without the same type of treatment (Sallows and Graupner 2005).

The earlier you start therapy, the less likely you’ll need to delay school.

The risks of being ill-prepared are high. Why should they lack cognitive development, integration and social opportunity, when the skills they need are covered within ABA and other complementary therapies before they ever enter the classroom?


If one of the goals for your child is to send him or her to school, let us help you both get there. Learn more about how we can focus on school readiness within our Hopebridge360 program, starting at as early as 15 months of age.

"To watch Kyran's therapist sit across from him with tears in her eyes and tell him how proud she is of him...I love that feeling. I love that he has so much support aside from me. That is the biggest reason we've seen so much progress with Hopebridge. The people who work here genuinely care about what they're doing."

Hannah - mom to Kyran

"From the moment we interviewed, we knew Hopebridge was exactly what we needed. We were in tears! It's such a benefit to have ABA, speech and occupational therapy all in one place, plus we love that they encourage parents to join in the therapy so we can mirror what they're doing at home."

Arianna - mom to Aurora

"We've seen Leah grow and make so much progress. She's saying words. Speech-generation devices help her communicate. She knows how to functionally play with peers. These are skills she never would have learned if we hadn't sought help because I wouldn't have known how to teach her."

Sarah McClary - mom to Leah and BCBA at Hopebridge

"I was told not to expect to see new skills as fast at home as he would do them at Hopebridge. That was not the case. Once he started learning, he took off. He used his PECS book to tell me what he wanted. He just started potty training and a week later, he's going on his own without even asking."

Melissa - mom to Jonathan

"The care, compassion and dedication the therapists show to our son is truly astounding. With every one of Homer's milestones, they celebrate just as much as we do. They are focused and passionate about helping children like Homer. We are truly blessed to have our son receive services from the great people at Hopebridge."

Kevin - father to Homer