Autism Spectrum Disorder Centers of Excellence Formed Through Partnership

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The Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 64 children in Arizona are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). On average, children in Arizona are diagnosed at 5 years 3 months. Hispanic children are even more likely to be misdiagnosed or receive a diagnosis later in life.

To help provide better access to care and an earlier diagnosis, Mercy Care Plan and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care have selected the partnership of the Southwest Autism Center of Excellence and Touchstone Health Services to serve as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Centers of Excellence throughout the Valley.

“On average, children in Arizona receive a diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder nearly two years later in life than the national average,” said Tad Gary, chief operating officer, Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care. “To help address the need for better access to care, Mercy Care Plan and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care have selected three partners to serve as the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) Centers of Excellence. As a part of our Mercy 360 Community reinvestment efforts, this partnership will provide our members, and families in the west Valley, with access to providers and services who can diagnose and provide care and support for autism spectrum disorders.”

A Center of Excellence is a facility and/or program that are recognized as providing the highest level of leadership, quality and service. Through these Centers, the community will now have access to a whole-health approach to diagnosing and treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Whole-health care is about offering comprehensive, integrated medical, developmental, and mental health/behavioral services which meet the needs of the individual as a whole.

The centers will also work with the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities, Primary Care Physicians and the Arizona Department of Education, to coordinate care and provide families with additional support if needed. 

There will be four ASD Centers of Excellence across the Valley to assist families faced with Autism spectrum disorders.

·         Southwest Human Development (Birth to 5): 2850 N. 24th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85008

·         Southwest Behavioral & Health Services (6 Through Adulthood): 11221 N. 28th Drive, Building E, Phoenix, AZ 85029

·         Southwest Behavioral & Health Services (6 Through Adulthood): 1255 W. Baseline Road, #138, Mesa, AZ 85202

·         Touchstone Health Services: 3602 E. Greenway Rd., Suite 102, Phoenix, AZ 85032

The centers will coordinate care and services across multiple systems to ensure families receive effective and efficient care. These services include:

·                     Diagnostic screening for ASD and developmental screening

·                     Comprehensive team assessments

·                     Evidenced-based, intervention services  to address  medical, developmental, and mental health/behavioral needs associated with or impacted by ASD


“Autism is one of the most commonly diagnosed developmental disorders in the United States. About 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to serious developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism,” said Dr. Ramiro Guillen, Southwest Behavioral & Health Services Chief Medical Officer.  “We know that early Intervention can considerably improve long-term development and social behaviors.”

Approximately 50,000 individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) turn 18 each year in the United States.

“We are proud to join with Southwest Human Development and Touchstone Health Services as part of the Mercy Care Plan/Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care ASD Centers of Excellence,” said Steven Sheets, Southwest Behavioral & Health Services VP of Outpatient Services.  “This partnership gives us a tremendous opportunity to enhance diagnostic and treatment outcomes for individuals who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a biologically-based neurodevelopmental disorder. It is defined as delayed social communication skills, social interactions, and restricted, repetitive behaviors (RRB). Current prevalence estimates reflect a 78% increase across all children with a 110% increase among Hispanic children.

About Southwest Behavioral & Health Services:

Incorporated in 1974 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Southwest Behavioral & Health Services provides services in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, rural Maricopa County, Gila, Mohave, Coconino, and Yavapai counties. Our Mission: “We inspire people to feel better and reach their potential. Through helping people discover their strengths, we improve our communities.” SB&H is a leader in development and delivery of services in the areas of housing, residential care, prevention services, outpatient services to children, incarcerated persons and dually diagnosed adults (SMI/SA). An innovative leader in behavioral health, services are client directed-outcome informed, evidence-based and include treatment of co-occurring disorders, the FAST model in prevention services, the Arizona Treatment Initiative for children and families, and the Recovery Model for persons with serious mental illness. For more information on SB&H, please visit;

About Southwest Human Development

Founded in 1981, Southwest Human Development’s mission is to strengthen the foundation Arizona’s children need for a great start in life. Our vision is a positive future for every child. The agency is recognized as a leader in providing comprehensive services for children ages birth through 5 and their families in five primary areas:  Child Development and Mental Health; Easterseals Disabilities Services; Early Literacy and Head Start; Child Welfare; and Professional Development and Training. Southwest Human Development is Arizona’s largest nonprofit dedicated to early childhood development, with a staff of over 900 serving more than 135,000 young children and their families each year. Our Children’s Developmental offers integrated medical, developmental, and mental health services to young children with complex developmental disorders and their families. Special areas of expertise include fragile infants – graduates of Newborn Intensive Care Units, and children with autism spectrum disorders, feeding disorders, and developmental delays secondary to trauma or abuse. Learn more at

About Touchstone Health Services

Touchstone Health Services has a long history of serving children and families in Arizona since 1968. Today, Touchstone partners with individuals, families, schools and other service providers to deliver the optimal continuum of health, education and social services, with an emphasis on services that support individuals and families to acquire the skills to live productive and responsible lives.


About Mercy Care Plan and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care

Mercy Care Plan and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care are non-profit health plans serving AHCCCS members throughout Arizona. Owned by Dignity Health and Ascension Health, Mercy Care Plan has served Medicaid members since 1985. Mercy Care Plan serves families, children, seniors, and people with physical and developmental/cognitive disabilities. Mercy Care Plan is also an owner of Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care, the Regional Behavioral Health Authority in Maricopa County and the first RBHA in Arizona to offer integrated physical and behavioral health services to persons determined to have a serious mental illness. Mercy Maricopa manages the public behavioral health system in Maricopa County and parts of Pinal County. They have a wide network of community providers that serve members and give them the support they need to reach their recovery goals. 

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