Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a group of developmental disorders. ASD may include lasting problems with social communication and social interactions, repetitive behaviors, limited interests and/or resisting change in daily routines. Symptoms usually begin before the age of 3 and can last throughout a person’s lifetime. The term “spectrum” refers to the wide range of symptoms, strengths, and levels of impairment that people with ASD can have. The diagnosis of ASD now includes autistic disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.
There is no one standard treatment for ASD. ASD treatment can include behavior programs, education and learning programs, medications, and specialized therapies such as speech, occupational, or physical. Research shows that early diagnosis and interventions are more likely to have major positive impacts on symptoms and later skills. For more information, see the NC Health Info page on Autism Spectrum Disorder.
ASD can be treated by a wide range of mental health and developmental disability professionals, including pediatricians, psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical social workers, neurologists, and licensed professional counselors. You may need to visit with several different providers before you find the right match. A good relationship with your provider will help you get the most out of treatment.
You can use your health insurance plan’s directory to find a provider in your network. If you have Medicare, you can use the Physician Compare directory from Medicare.gov to find a provider that accepts it. Other directories for specific types of providers are listed below.
Providers who can diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications for ASD
A pediatrician is a medical doctor who manages the physical, mental and behavioral health of babies, children and teenagers. A pediatrician is trained to diagnose and treat a variety of childhood illnesses from minor health problems to serious diseases, including ASD. A pediatrician will help refer you to specialists and guide you through treatment options. To find a pediatrician near you, use this directory from the American Academy of Pediatrics. You can enter your country, state and city, or zip code. Choose Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics from the Medical Specialty dropdown.
A psychiatrist specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental illness and behavioral disorders. Psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to understand the complex interrelation between mental and physical health since their training includes four years of medical school and at least three additional years in a psychiatric residency. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications. The North Carolina Psychiatric Association directory includes psychiatrists who have chosen to submit information about their practices. The North Carolina Medical Board directory lists psychiatrists licensed to practice in North Carolina.
A neurologist is a medical doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating, and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system. To locate a neurologist, use this directory from the American Academy of Neurology.
Providers who can provide counseling and support for ASD but cannot prescribe medicines
Psychologists have graduate-level training in psychology and either a Ph.D, or Psy.D (Doctor of Psychology). North Carolina allows limited practice with a Master of Psychology degree. The North Carolina Psychological Association maintains this directory of psychologists. You can search by gender, ages served, insurance accepted, languages spoken and more. Choose “Autism” from the “Issue” dropdown.
Licensed Clinical Social Workers
Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) can diagnose mental illnesses and be involved in direct therapy with patients in private practice or they might be part of a team conducting research for a university, hospital, or private organization. They sometimes work as case managers helping people solve problems and connecting them to various resources. Most LCSW programs require thousands of hours of direct clinical experience. In North Carolina, LCSWs must be licensed by the state. Use the HelpPRO Advanced Search to find a LCSW. Choose “Autism Spectrum” from the “Specializes in this concern” dropdown and “Social Worker, Licensed Clinical” under the “Holds this credential, certification, or has completed training in” dropdown. This directory provides a good deal of information about individual LCSWs but does not include license status. To review a LCSW’s license, use the License Lookup from the North Carolina Social Work Certification and Licensure Board. Choose “Licensed Clinical Social Worker” from the “Certification” dropdown.
Licensed Professional Counselors
Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) have master’s degrees and are trained to work with individuals, families, and groups in treating mental, behavioral, and emotional problems and disorders, including ASD. In North Carolina, LPCs must be licensed by the state. To find a LPC near you, use this directory from the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina. Choose “Autism Spectrum Disorder” under the Primary Specialty or Area of Expertise dropdown. This directory provides a good deal of information about individual LPCs but does not include license status. To review a counselor’s license, use the License Verification Search Form from the North Carolina Board of Licensed Professional Counselors.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Complementary and Alternative Therapies, sometimes called Complementary and Integrative Medicine, are treatments that are not part of standard medicine, such as acupuncture, chiropractic, or dietary supplements. It is a term used for a wide variety of health care practices that may be used along with, or instead of, mainstream medical treatment. [An example of such therapy is using acupuncture or meditation to relieve anxiety.] For more information on the use of Complementary and Alternative Therapies related to ASD, please visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Clinical trials are research studies that examine whether a medical treatment or device is safe and effective for human beings. Many of the drugs and therapies available today are the result of clinical trials. To learn more, and to decide whether participating in a clinical trial is right for you, visit ClinicalTrials.gov, a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Mental Health Clinics, Treatment Programs or Hospitals
To find a mental health facility or program, use the Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator from the US Department of Health and Human Services. This locator includes public, private (both for-profit and non-profit) and Department of Veterans Affairs’ facilities. Choose “Select Services” to specify treatment approach, insurance accepted, preferred language, age groups served and more.
Free and Reduced Cost Clinics: Use this directory to search over 300 free and reduced cost clinics across North Carolina by location, hours of operation, insurance accepted (private, Medicaid, uninsured etc.) and type of service provided. Choose “Behavioral Health” from the Services menu.
Support groups allow people to come together to share their stories, experiences, and lives. Talking with others who share your challenges can help you see that there are others who may be dealing with similar situations and who may have helpful advice from their perspective as a patient.
For information about support groups and education opportunities near you, use this directory from Autism Speaks.
Autism Speaks maintains this list of advocacy, financial, and legal community resources as well as health care services, interventions and therapies.
Finding Help in a Crisis
Behavioral health crises can be serious but most do not require an evaluation at a hospital emergency department. Using other specialized crisis services, listed in the directory below, may help connect you more quickly to ongoing resources to support your recovery and avoid a lengthy emergency department visit.
North Carolina’s publicly funded crisis services—which may be used by anyone regardless of insurance status or ability to pay, can be found by using the NC Department of Health and Human Services directory, searchable by county.
Need More Information?
Do you have a health related question? You are welcome to use the Health Sciences Library’s Ask a Librarian service.
Our librarians are happy to help you with questions such as “How is diabetes diagnosed?” or “What is heart disease?”. We can not answer questions about an individual’s medical case or care. Please contact your doctor for specific medical advice.
Page authored by UNC Health Sciences Library Staff.