TAP-purple-puzzle-piece-200pxWHAT IS AUTISM

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is one of a group of neurodevelopmental disorders.  Conditions in this diagnostic category have an onset during the developmental period (pregnancy and early childhood), with signs typically seen before the child enters grade school.  ASD is characterized by difficulties in social communication and social interaction, along with restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.  Symptoms can change with development (becoming more or less severe) making diagnosis sometimes difficult.  As a spectrum disorder, each person with ASD can have very different skills, abilities, and needs.  In addition, individuals with ASD may also have other medical or behavioral health issues that can be related or unrelated to their ASD.

Signs and Symptoms

ASD begins very early in a child’s life, with signs and symptoms typically emerging by age 3.  Emerging research suggests that it may be possible to diagnose ASD prior to age 2.  Regular screening for development throughout the first few years of life provides the greatest opportunity for a child with ASD to receive an early diagnosis and appropriate intervention.

Age-specific developmental checklists from the CDC’s “Act Early” program can be found here.


Because ASD is a spectrum disorder, symptoms and severity vary tremendously from person to person.  In addition, there is no medical test (like a blood test) to provide a diagnosis.  As a result, it is important that evaluations be conducted by professionals who have been specially trained and are experienced in conducting diagnostic evaluations for possible ASD.   Many TAP centers provide diagnostic evaluations. Check here to see which centers near you offer this service.


There is no cure for ASD.  However, research shows that early diagnosis and appropriate intervention services offer a child with ASD the best opportunity to achieve his or her maximum potential.  Services are based upon your child’s individual needs, and may include behavioral therapy as well as other services to help your child talk, interact with others, and develop independent living skills.  Early Intervention (EI) is a program through the Illinois Department of Humans Services for children under the age of 36 months who are at risk of having developmental delays.  To get more information about the EI program in your community, click here.

If your child is over 36 months old, even if not old enough for kindergarten or to be enrolled in a public school, contact your local elementary school, school district office, or TAP Partner to find out how to have your child evaluated for school-provided services. Click here to find your local TAP Partner.

There are many other treatment options available for individuals with ASD.  When evaluating different options, you may find it helpful to review the suggestions on this tip sheet.

ASD Updates

TAP provides news updates related to ASD research, services, and events here. Be sure to check back regularly for new articles, tips, and resources. You can also subscribe to TAP’s newsletter here

This page contains a compilation of information provided by the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


TAP maintains a large collection of resources to provide information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as tips and tools for use by those who care for and work with individuals with ASD.  A number of these resources are available on our website for you to download and use immediately, most in English and Spanish.  Many more are available in the Family and Community Resource Rooms maintained by the TAP Service Network Partners.  To find the location nearest you, click here. You will need the free Adobe PDF Reader to open the resources listed below.  If you do not already have it, you can get it here.

To view this page in Spanish please click here. *Note: scroll past the English versions of the resources on the documents to view it in Spanish.

Para ver esta página en español, pulse aquí *Nota: La información en español, se encuentra después de la versión en inglés de cada recurso

Tips & Tools

CDC Developmental Checklists


Community Accessibility

About the Library

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Chicago Children’s Museum


Level 1: This level is best for a non-reader or beginner reader, and primarily consists of artwork to convey concepts. Level 2: This level is best for emerging readers, able to sound out and understand words, and parses sentences and artwork. Level 3: This level is for fluent readers and relies mostly on written communication.


Below you will find helpful websites you can visit for additional resources

American Academy of Pediatrics, Illinois Healthcare Transition Project: Offers transition resources for parents and physicians in English and Spanish with an emphasis on health resources.

Autism after 16Autism After 16 is dedicated to providing information and analysis of adult autism issues, with the emphasis on analysis. The website includes news, columns written by adults with ASD and their families, profiles on adults with ASD and much more.

Autism Internet ModulesSponsored by the Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI), this website provides a number of short (1 – 2 hour) learning modules.  You can take them without charge, or can pay to get CEUs. They also have an option for graduate student credit.

Autism Speaks – Illinois resource guideAutism Speaks offers an extensive list of Illinois resources by category.

Autism Research InstituteARI is a support network offering online education and discussion forums, support lines, and many resources for adults with ASD.  ARI also supports autism research.

Equip For EqualityEquip for Equality is devoted to advocating for the human and civil rights of persons with disabilities.

GRASP – Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome PartnershipGRASP is committed to empowering the lives of adolescents and adults living with an autism spectrum disorder by providing community outreach needs and other support services.

National Autism CenterPart of the May Institute, the National Autism Center focuses on the promotion of evidenced based practices for ASD. They have a number of resource guides for parents and professionals.

National Autism NetworkA Comprehensive resource highlighting all aspects of autism.

One Place for Special NeedsOne Place for Special Needs is a national disability resource for families who have children with disabilities.  It is a resource where families can make connections with other special needs families and get practical information to help their child at home, school and the community.

Ounce of Prevention FundThe Ounce of Prevention Fund gives children in poverty the best chance for success in school and in life by advocating for and providing the highest quality care and education from birth to age five.

Sibling and Leadership Network: The Sibling and Leadership Network is an organization committed to providing a wide range of resources for siblings of people with disabilities. They provide information, support, and tools for them to advocate with their brothers and sisters, and to educate them about the issues important to their families.

Simmons Foundation Autism Research InitiativeSFARI’s sponsors research that promises to increase our scientific understanding of autism spectrum disorders, thereby benefiting individuals and families challenged by these disorders.

Think College: Think College is a national organization dedicated to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options for people with intellectual disabilities. Provides training and technical assistance.

World Health Organization report on ASD and other developmental disorders


The Arc of Illinois: The Arc of Illinois is nonprofit organization committed to providing family support services, legislative advocacy and resources for families and children with disabilities across the state of Illinois.

Autism Society IllinoisThe Autism Society of Illinois is devoted to improving the lives of individuals and families dealing with an autism spectrum disorder through special education programs, First Responder programs, trainings for professionals and other support services.

Community and Residential Services AuthorityThe Community and Residential Services Authority (CRSA) is an interagency group responsible for identifying and addressing barriers facing parents, professionals and providers when trying to get needed services and programs for individuals (through the age of 21) with a behavior disorder or a severe emotional disturbance and their family.

Early Intervention ProgramIllinois’ Early Intervention program (under the Department of Human Services) works to assure that families who have infants and toddlers, birth to three, with diagnosed disabilities, developmental delays or substantial risk of significant delays receive resources and supports that assist them in maximizing their child’s development.

Family to Family Health Information CenterThe Family to Family Health Information Center is a free service focused on providing healthcare information for families of children and youth with special needs.

Family Matters: Parent Training and Information Center located in Effingham, Il. serving all of Illinois except Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties.   The center’s mission is to build upon families’ strengths, empower parents and professionals to achieve the strongest possible outcomes for students with disabilities, and to enhance the quality of life for children and young adults with disabilities. The center assists parents of children with disabilities to be informed participants in the special education process and IEP process, assist students with disabilities to understand their rights and responsibilities, and supply information to professionals who serve children with disabilities.

Family Resource Center on Disabilities: Chicago’s metropolitan area Parent Training and Information Center, serving Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties.  The center provides families of children with disabilities with information, training and assistance.  Some of the services they provide are to help families understand the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), make informed decisions about their child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP), obtain appropriate services for their child, and communicate more effectively with school professionals.

Family Support NetworkSupport and advocacy for individuals with disabilities and their families.

The Hope Institute for Children and Families: The Hope Institute for Children and Families provides individualized educational, residential and health services to children ages 5-21 with multiple developmental disabilities, including ASD. Services include: independence learning, therapeutic education, and community transition programs. Additionally, Hope provides community integrated classrooms and vocational skills through collaboration with local school districts. 

Illinois Assistive Technology ProgramThe Illinois Assistive Technology Program (IATP) is the state non-profit organization for Assistive Technology (AT) needs, including AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices.  It provides AT assessments, training, and advocacy.  IATP has a loan program for AT devices, a Demonstration Center, a work incentive planning and assistance program, and financial loans.

Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Developmental DisabilitiesThe Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Developmental Disabilities is a statewide provider of early intervention, living, day services, in home supports and other resources for persons with disabilities.

Illinois StarNET:  Illinois StarNET provides a variety of opportunities for personal and professional growth for those who touch the lives of young children, ages birth through eight, with an emphasis on children with special needs. StarNET offers many free workshops, podcasts, and webinars as well as stipends to attend conferences and workshops.

Illinois State Board of EducationThe Illinois State Board of Education provides leadership, assistance, resources and advocacy so that every student is prepared to succeed in careers and postsecondary education, and share accountability for doing so with districts and schools.

Illinois LifespanIllinois Lifespan provides free information and referral services for persons with disabilities.

Illinois Department of Human Services, Division of Rehabilitation ServicesThe Illinois Department of Human Services Division of Rehabilitation Services (DRS) is a statewide provider of educational, employment, community inclusion and independent living services for individuals with disabilities.

Illinois Children Mental Health PartnershipA partnership committed to improving the scope, quality and access of mental health programs, services and supports for Illinois children.


The ArcNational community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Autism NowNational autism resource and information center.

Autism SpeaksA leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding autism research and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

Autism SocietyA leading grassroots autism organization, working to improve the lives of all affected by autism.  Provides the latest information regarding treatment, education, research and advocacy.

Disability.govU.S. federal government website for information on disability programs and services nationwide.

Family VoicesFamily Voices is a national grassroots network, providing families of children with special needs the resources and support they need to make informed decisions, advocate for improved public and private policies, build partnerships among families and professionals, and serve as a trusted resource on health care.

The National Center of Birth Defects and Developmental DisabilitiesDedicated to helping people live to the fullest. Much of the center’s work focuses on protecting people who are especially vulnerable to health risks – babies, children, people with blood disorders, and people with disabilities. 

The U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ASD main page: CDC is committed to continuing to provide essential data on ASD, search for factors that put children at risk for ASD and possible causes, and develop resources that help identify children with ASD as early as possible.

The U. S. Department of Education’s Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) websiteIDEA is the federal law that governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities.