Autism Spectrum

Click here for Dr. Sabine Falls' handout on Autism>

ACCESS is an Arkansas resource for children and youths diagnosed with autism and autism-spectrum disorders.

Autism is defined as a brain development disorder that is characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior, all starting before a child is 3 years old. 

Autism effects many parts of the brain, and how this actually occurs is not fully understood. It is not because of bad parenting or as a result of lack of motivation on the part of the child. It is important to note that autism does tend to run in families and that many professionals think there is a strong genetic link to this disorder. The incidence of autism is thought to be about one in every 150 people.

>>Signs & Symptoms of Autism: Recognize early warning signs and symptoms of an autistic child.

>>Diagnosing Autism: The Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) and The Autism Diagnostic Scale (ADOS)

>>Treatment & Therapy: Finding the right educational and therapeutic settings for an autistic child.

Signs & Symptoms 


Autism is evident during the first years of life. Parents often notice warning signs in the first two years of their child's life. Early behaviors or signs of a problem include delayed communication, interaction and play skills. It is always important to recognize a delay as early as possible. Act now! It is very important to seek intervention for a developmental problem as soon as it is noticed and not when a specific medical diagnosis can be established. For example, when you first notice a child's delay in communication or play, seek the advise of a developmental specialist (such as a speech therapist) immediately.

Speech development during the first three years is extremely important. At 18 months, children are expected to use five to 10 words spontaneously. However, this progresses at an alarming rate! By 24 months, children are expected to use 50 words and start putting combinations of two words together to make phrases. By 3 years, children should be using a spoken vocabulary of 300 words and using them in four to five word sentences. So, a delay at 18 months that is undetected or untreated will have an adverse effect on later development. Therefore, it is essential to recognize and treat delays in communication at a very early age. Do not take a "wait and see" tactic.

Click here for more information on warning signs for Autism


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Diagnosing Autism

Autism is is global disorder and must demonstrate impairments in three areas: (1) social interaction, (2) communication and (3) patterns of behavior. Furthermore, necessary criteria for diagnosis must be evident in children before age 3.

The ACCESS Evaluation and Resource Center offers comprehensive evaluations for children who are suspected of a pervasive developmental disorder. Our evaluation team comprises a clinical psychologist, a speech language pathologist and, when appropriate, an occupational therapist.

The Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) and The Autism Diagnostic Scale (ADOS) are used as the primary diagnostic tool. The ACCESS on-staff clinical psychologist, Dr. Sabine Falls, Ph.D., is trained in the administration of these diagnostic instruments and can officially diagnose autism, Asperger Disorder and Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD-NOS), as well as other behavioral diagnoses (such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive disorder and oppositional defiant disorder).

The Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI) is a thorough interview completed with the caregivers. It follows the diagnostic criteria required to give the medical diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The Autism Diagnostic Scale (ADOS) is not a parent interview. This test is administered with the child and accompanies The Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI). It involves systematic observation of the child's communication, social interaction, imagination and stereotypical behaviors. These observations allow the evaluation team to personally observe diagnostic indicators of the suspected disorder.

For more information on an evaluation for autism with the ACCESS team, contact the admissions office at 501-217-8600.

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Treatment & Therapy

Autism is a lifelong disorder. The prognosis for autism is best when early and intensive intervention is initiated and when children develop a functional language system by 5 or 6 years of age. Also, it is vital to have actively involved caregivers. Finally, it is important to note that a higher cognitive level is a good prognostic indicator of success.

It is important with any treatment approach for children with developmental disabilities to use evidence-based instruction practices. There are lots of "fads" that come and go that do not have proper documentation of success and are not proven methods. Parents and professionals are often tempted to seek out anything that appears beneficial. They may think, "What harm is it to try this out? It might just help!" This search of treatments can be expensive, time consuming and exhausting. More importantly, this search of a cure often interferes with the focus on intensive treatment with an evidence-based approach. Treatment of any lifelong disorder is incremental and takes many years of intervention.

Finding the right educational and therapeutic setting is crucial for the child with autism. It is vital to find a preschool that uses a multisensory curriculum and visual language teaching strategies. A method called Aided Language Stimulation is a technique used at ACCESS. This technique is used to make the connection between verbal and visual information. Aided Language Stimulation teaches children to use functional language in a natural learning environment.


Quality speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy is vital for children with autism. Development of a functional language system before age 5 is a huge prognostic indicator of success for children with autism. Also, functional daily living skills are crucial. ACCESS Therapy services offer evidence-based practices and have great results for children with autism.


Some children with autism have reading disorders. This is largely due to delayed speech and language skills. Children with autism often struggle with reading comprehension and written expression. A child's vocabulary at age 3 is an indicator of reading comprehension at age 9 and 10. Therefore, delayed speech and language skills in the preschool years can not only impact communication but can later adversely impact reading as well. ACCESS uses The Dubard Association Method, a nationally proven method to teach reading, spelling, comprehension and writing. This approach is available in ACCESS classrooms and also through academic therapy (specialized tutoring), available for students who attend schools in the community.


Medical treatment is often used to address the accompanying problems that many children with autism face. Medication is often useful for children who experience difficulties with anxiety, anger, depression and attention.


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