Autism Services

What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

How is autism treated?

Each child or adult with autism is unique and, so, each autism intervention plan should be tailored to address specific needs. Intervention can involve behavioral treatments, medicines or both. Many persons with autism have additional medical conditions such as sleep disturbance, seizures and gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Addressing these conditions can improve attention, learning and related behaviors. Early intensive behavioral intervention involves a child’s entire family, working closely with a team of professionals. In some early intervention programs, therapists come into the home to deliver services. This can include parent training with the parent leading therapy sessions under the supervision of the therapist. Other programs deliver therapy in a specialized center, classroom or preschool.

What services does HCS provide for those with autism?

HCS offers an array of services for those on the autism spectrum including diagnostic and treatment options. Raising awareness of the specialized needs of those with autism throughout our agency has resulted in plans for a full treatment team approach with specialized focus in our Outpatient, Early Intervention, and Intellectual Disability departments specifically. Currently through focus on play therapy and play therapy group services, children with autism are provided an opportunity to interact and “play” (the “work” of children) with peers in an environment where they learn to set and respect personal boundaries, engage in play with others, and manage their own emotional, social, physical, and sensory needs. They are also given the opportunity to get critical early assistance through our Early Intervention program. Collaborative plans for new parent education and support services are currently underway. HCS also partners with the Southwest Virginia Autism Action Group, a service of Commonwealth Autism Association.

NEW! Autism Support Group

This support group for parents of children with Autism is supported by Highlands Community Services and proceeds from the Abingdon 2014 Autism Awareness 5K. If you are interested in joining the parent support group, please respond via email to




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