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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

ASERT has put together some resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current Coronavirus outbreak.

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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

Coronavirus Health and Safety Guide Video


What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is an illness that can be spread from person to person through droplets – like from coughing or sneezing. You may hear it called coronavirus, COVID-19, or novel coronavirus.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to virus. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

*Information provided by CDC website

Checklist for Symptoms of COVID-19

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you have any of these emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
  • New confusion or inability to arouse
  • Bluish lips or face

This list is not all inclusive. Please consult your medical provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning you.

Call 911 if you have a medical emergency: Notify the operator that you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a mask before medical help arrives.

How Will this Affect Me?

The coronavirus spreads easily from person to person, so it’s recommended that people practice something called “social distancing”. This means staying away from other people in order to avoid catching or spreading the virus.  It also means that schools may close, events may be cancelled, or people may need to work from home.

This may mean that your normal daily routine will change, but this is okay. These changes are only temporary and are being done to keep you healthy.

What Can I do to Help Myself Stay Healthy?

  • Avoid close contact with others: Keep at least six feet away from someone who is sick and avoid crowded places.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer, especially after being in a public place. Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover your mouth: Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Then immediately wash your hands.
  • Clean your space: Clean common spaces you use such as keyboards, doorknobs, light switches, and phones.
  • Wear a mask: If you have to go out into the community, wear a mask.

Preventing COVID-19 and Monitoring Health

Important Links and Trusted Sources

PA.gov Website

Pennsylvania has created a guide for dealing with COVID-19. This website includes guidance and resources, with more information and services being added as they become available. Information includes cases in Pennsylvania, accessing healthcare, information for individuals, families, businesses, and schools.

AID in PA Website

This website is a collaboration between ASERT and Health Care Quality Units (HCQUs). This site is designed to connect individuals with disabilities, families, professionals, and community members with resources that can best serve them in emergency situations.

PA Department of Health: Coronavirus

This website is the best place to find up to date information about coronavirus and it’s impact on Pennsylvania. The website is updated daily with information on number of cases by county, information about stay at home orders, links to additional resources and information on staying safe.

CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website provides a wide range of information about coronavirus, including ways to stay safe, infection control, tips for caring for individuals who have coronavirus, and more.

World Health Organization: Coronavirus Disease 2019

This website provides information about coronavirus and it’s impact around the globe. Information includes country-specific information, travel advice, mythbusters, research and development, and more.

Translated Resources

The “What to Know About Coronavirus” resource has been translated into the following languages:

Spanish Translation: Lo que hay que saber sobre el coronavirus

Chinese Translation: 新型冠状病毒 (COVID-19) 须知

 Russian Translation: Что необходимо знать о коронавирусе (COVID-19)

Arabic Translation: ما ينبغي أن تعرفه عن فيروس كورونا (COVID-19)

Safety Tips

Make sure to visit our wearing a mask social story and desensitization an wearing a mask resource for information about how you and those around you can stay safe while interacting with others or going out in the community.  Also, make sure to explore the information below to learn more about how to remain safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wearing a Mask

Wearing a mask is important for helping you and others in the community stay healthy and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even as activities begin to open up around the state, it’s important to follow the guidelines and wear a mask when you’re in the community. Below are resources designed to help individuals with autism and their families get comfortable wearing a mask and understanding why they are important.

A woman stands in the center of the image wearing a mask.Social Story: This resource is a visual guide to helping individuals with autism understand why it’s important to wear a mask, when it’s important to wear a mask, and how to properly wear a mask when in the community. An animated version of the social story is also available.

Social Story

Animated Social Story

Teaching to Wear a Mask and Communication: These resources are for parents and caregivers to help individuals with autism become comfortable with wearing a mask while in the community. They provide tips and suggestions for gradually getting individuals comfortable with wearing a mask, as well as suggestions for different types of masks. Additionally, information about communication barriers while wearing a mask, and ways that clear masks can help limit those barriers is also provided.

Desensitization Resources

Heading back to WORK

ASERT has developed a simple reminder to keep you and your co-workers safe. If you’re an employer, you can post the flyer as a reminder for your employees. If you’re a parent, provider, or self-advocate, you can bring these to your employer and ask them to post them to help keep everyone safe at work.

WORK Flyer

Additional Resources and Information

Below you will find additional resources and information for parents, caregivers, direct support professionals, and individuals with autism to manage a variety of situations related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. This section will be changing as more information and resources become available, so check back often!

During this time of change and uncertainty, it may be even more difficult supporting and taking care of individuals with autism. With businesses closed, activities cancelled and major disruptions to daily schedules and routines, some individuals with autism may struggle to cope. Below are some resources and information designed to help parents, caregivers, and direct support staff to support individuals with autism during this time.

Social Stories

There is a lot of information out there about coronavirus (COVID-19), and it can be overwhelming and hard to understand. Explaining the virus, and what needs to be done to stay healthy and safe, can be difficult. The resources below provide a visual explanation of coronavirus and some situations people may experience.

A boy with a worried expression.


This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about the coronavirus and how to stay healthy.

This social story is also available in Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.

Social Story

Two hands with soap.


This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism on how to wash hands to help stay healthy.

This social story is also available in Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.

Social Story

A sick boy coughing into a tissue is shown to the left of a man.

Social Distancing

This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about social distancing and why it’s important when people are sick.

This social story is also available in Russian, Chinese, Spanish and Arabic.

Social Story

Animated Social Story

A man wearing a mask holds a thermometer in a boy's mouth.


This resource provides a visual explanation of what it means for someone to be in isolation due to coronavirus.

Social Story

Animated Social Story

A worried-looking woman stands in the center of the image.

Getting Tested for Coronavirus

This resource provides a visual explanation of the process of getting tested for coronavirus.

Social Story

Animated Social Story

A male teacher is shown on a computer screen next to the words

Distance Learning

This resource provides a visual guide for individuals about distance learning during stay at home orders.

Social Story

Animated Social Story

A woman standing outside of a house.

Stay at Home Order

This resource provides a visual explanation of the Stay at Home orders currently in place due to COVID-19.

Social Story

Animated Social Story

A boy wearing a green hat, green scarf, and a mask over his nose and mouth is shown.


This resource provides a visual explanation of what quarantine is, and what it means if someone has to quarantine themselves.

Social Story

One gloved hand grabs the wrist area of the glove on the other hand.

Wearing Gloves: Parts 1-3

These resources provide a visual explanation of why it can help to wear gloves when in the community and how to properly wear them.

Social Story

Helpful Websites

Mindheart COVIBOOK

This short book was designed to support and reassure children regarding the COVID-19. The book provides a way to discuss the full range of emotions arising from the current situation. The book is designed to be printed and written/drawn on.  This resource is available in multiple languages.

Talking to Children About COVID-19: A Parent Resource

This guide from the National Association of School Psychologists provides guidelines for talking to children, information on keeping the conversation age appropriate, suggested talking points and additional resources. The Parent Resource is available in multiple languages.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing

The Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre has created a page on their website dedicated to COVID-19 and providing updates. They continue to add videos to this page with new information every few days.

Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Augmentative and Alternative Communication

This website provides information about communication supports for children and adults with complex communication needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Department of Human Services Website

The Department of Human Services (DHS)  have dedicated websites with up to date information and resources for provider agencies, families and individuals regarding changes to services and programs due to COVID-19.

MyODP.org Website

The Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) have dedicated websites with up to date information and resources for provider agencies, families and individuals regarding changes to services and programs due to COVID-19.


Managing Changes

For individuals who thrive on routines and schedules, being quarantined may mean changes to their normal daily activities. There are different ways to help individuals manage these changes, including:

Social Stories

Social stories can be a great way to explain changes, or new situations to individuals. There are many different social stories out there about COVID-19, including ones developed by ASERT (see above).

One simple way to create a social story is by using Microsoft PowerPoint, or similar presentation software. Use each slide to add text and images to tell the story. These can then be shared online, or printed and reviewed with individuals.

The following resources can help you develop your own social stories:

How to Create a Social Story

Social Story Template

Visual Schedules

Visual schedules are a great way to help individuals understand what to expect. When there are changes in routine or activities, creating a visual schedule can help the individual understand the changes, and know what is coming next. The following resource provides information on visual schedules, how to create them, and how to use them with individuals who have autism:

Visual Schedule Resources

Additional Resources

While families are at home practicing social distancing or self-quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic, difficulties involving  family members may occur as a result of individuals being outside of their typical routines and feeling confined inside the same space. Use these resources as a guide to help handle various difficult situations.

Mindful About Meltdowns

Teaching New Skills

Services and Supports

Many services and supports have been disrupted for individuals and families due to social distancing and restrictions on services that can be provided.

Thankfully, requirements for certain services have been lifted, allowing providers to continue some services remotely, through phone or video calls. This is referred to as “telehealth”, and a wide range of services from medical appointments to behavioral health to supports coordination is able to be provided in this way at this time.

ASERT Telehealth Resource

The Council of Autism Service Providers

The Council of Autism Service Providers is a non-profit association of for-profit and not-for-profit agencies serving individuals with autism spectrum disorders. They have created a number or resources for providers around telehealth.

Telehealth Resources

Returning to the Community

Changes in the Community

In the coming week’s stores and activities across Pennsylvania will start to open their doors. One thing to remember is that things will be different when we go back into the community. There will be rules in place that we will need to follow. This resource provides an overview of some things that may be different.

Changes in the Community

Talking About Going into the Community

We have spent months telling our loved ones that it was not safe to go to school, the park, the store, or to visit family and friends. Now, with the proper precautions, we are talking about going out to the community again! With this big change, a lot of feelings may happen for both you and your family members.

Talking About Going into the Community

Going Into the Community: Self-Advocates

For months we have heard guidance from leaders in our community that it was not safe to go to school, the park, the store, or to visit family and friends. Now, we are slowly talking about going out to the community again, with proper precautions in place. With this big change, a lot of feelings may come up for you. This resource can help you check in with yourself about how you are feeling during this uncertain time.

Going Into the Community: Self-Advocates

Maintaining both physical and mental health throughout this time is important for all individuals: parents and caregivers, direct support professionals, and individuals with autism. The resources below focus on ways to stay physically healthy, what to do if you are not feeling well, and ways to maintain your mental health during periods of social isolation.

Physical Health

Healthy Habits

  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Don’t touch eyes/nose/mouth
  • Clean surfaces frequently
  • Stay home when sick
  • Avoid sick people

Washing Hands

  • Wet hands
  • Apply soap
  • Scrub for 20 seconds (long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice
  • Rinse under water
  • Dry with clean paper towel

This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism on how to wash hands to help stay healthy.

Social Story

How to Properly Wash Hands Resource

Social Distancing

Social distancing means staying away from close contact with other people in social situations.

This resource provides a visual guide for individuals with autism about social distancing and why it’s important when people are sick.

Social Story

If You Feel Sick

If you have mild symptoms:

Please stay home. If you feel worse, contact your health care provider.

Advocating for My Health During COVID-19

If you have severe symptoms:

If you have fever over 100 degrees, shortness of breath and cough, call your health care provider.

If you do not have a health care provider, call your local health department or 1-877-PA-HEALTH

If you still need help, call your local Emergency Department.

Online and Drive Through Screening

Many places are beginning to offer “drive through” testing sites, or online options, to be screened for coronavirus. Call you insurance company or healthcare provider to find out more about options available to you.

Easy Read Guide for Self-Advocates

This resource, from the Council for Intellectual Disability, provides an easy-read guide for self-advocates to understand viruses, and things they can do to stay healthy.

Council for Intellectual Disability: Viruses and Staying Healthy

Mental Health

Dealing with the coronavirus and it’s impacts can be stressful. Fears about the illness, trying to stay healthy, making sure you’re prepared and following all precautions can be overwhelming. Add in the recommendations for social distancing, and it can take a toll on mental health.

For individuals who already experience anxiety, the current situation can make it even worse. Taking care of your mental health, as well as those around you, is just as important as maintaining physical health. The tips below can help individuals with autism, parents, caregivers, and direct support staff all maintain good mental health during this time.

Anxiety and Stress

Mental Health and Coping

This resource from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) provides tips and resources for managing anxiety and stress related to COVID-19.

CDC Website

Supporting Individuals with Autism and Anxiety

This resource collection from ASERT provides information on how to support individuals with autism and anxiety. Information includes general tips, managing panic attacks, and relaxation strategies like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, imagery, and grounding techniques.

ASERT Website

Disaster Distress Helpline

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.

SAMHSA Website

Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
Deaf/Hard of Hearing: Text “TalkWithUs” to 66746, or
TTY  1-800-846-8517
Spanish Speaking: 1-800-985-5990 and press “2”, or
From the 50 States, text “Hablanos” to 66746, or
From Puerto Rico, text “Hablanos” to 1-787-339-2663

Crisis Text Line

Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Crisis Text Line trains volunteers to support people in crisis.

For those in Pennsylvania: text “PA” to 741741

For specific concerns about COVID-19: text “HOME” to 741741

For more information visit:

Crisis Text Line

Ways to View Media Coverage

This article from the American Psychological Association provides tips and information on how to view the media coverage and information around COVID-19 without becoming overwhelmed and anxious.

Five Ways to View Coverage of the Coronavirus

How I See It: Coping with Coronavirus

How I See It is a series on PAAutism and ASDNext. In each installment, we ask people in the Pennsylvania autism community – individuals, family members, professionals and more – to share their thoughts on a particular topic.

This month’s topic is coronavirus – specifically, ways that they are dealing with social distancing, anxiety, isolation and staying healthy.

How I See It: Coping with Coronavirus

Get S.A.F.E and be S.O.U.N.D

A resource for parents experiencing stress during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

Are you finding that your family is experiencing more stress than usual due to heightened emotions and social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis? Do you need a guide to help you respond and process these situations? Remember, an escalated parent cannot de-escalate a child while in a heightened state, themselves. Use this resource as a tool to practice S.A.F.E and S.O.U.N.D!

Get S.A.F.E and be S.O.U.N.D

How to Create a Coping Zone

A tool for managing family stress during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Crisis.

While practicing social distancing during the Covid-19 crisis, family members may experience more stress than usual. One mechanism to combat stressful situations for families inside their homes would be to create a coping zone. A coping zone is an area inside a home where a family member can retreat to in times of high stress (i.e. their sibling with autism is having a hard time). It also acts as a private area where the individual can practice coping techniques and self-care when a stressful situation arises. Together with your family, use the 6 steps below to individualize a coping zone inside your home, and decide together how and when they could best utilize this space as a coping skill in stressful situations.

How to Create a Coping Zone

Stand Up Against Stressors

While families are staying inside to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s likely that parents will experience additional stressors than usual. In order for parents to uphold healthy and safe lifestyles for their families, they must practice maintaining their own wellness first! Use the wellness strategies below to stand up against the stressors in your life that you can control.

Stand Up Against Stressors

Coping with Coronavirus

These resources provide some tips and suggestions for individuals and families to deal with some of the new situations brought about by COVID-19, like social distancing, isolation and planning for care.

Coping with Coronavirus

Supporting Siblings Through COVID-19

This resource, developed by ASERT, provides helpful tips and information for parents on supporting siblings of individuals with disabilities during COVID-19.

Supporting Siblings Through COVID-19

Processing Emotions and Relaxation Techniques

Dealing with the stay-at-home order is a stressful and confusing change for many. Everyone is experiencing the impact of the disruption in our daily routine. This can result in difficult emotions. For individuals with autism and intellectual disabilities, it may be even more difficult to understand and process these strong emotions. This resource highlights some ways to help people process their feelings.

Processing Emotions and Relaxation Techniques

Social Isolation

Phone, Text, and Videochat

Call or text friends, family and loved ones. You may not be able to see each other in person, but you can still call, text, or videochat to stay in touch.

Staying Connected at Home

Supporting Engagement at Home

Stay Active

There are plenty of activities that you can do to stay engaged while you’re at home. Read a book, catch up on favorite shows, do a puzzle or start a new hobby. For more ideas on ways to stay active while at home, check out the “Supporting Individuals” section of this page.

Develop a Routine

While your normal daily routine may be disrupted, it doesn’t mean you can’t create a new one. Get up at a regular time each day, change your clothes, and start your day as normal. Create a schedule of activities to provide some structure to your days. Make sure to include exercise and plenty of good foods to help keep you healthy.

Social stories and visual schedules can help when developing new routines. For more information on how to use these tools, visit the following resources:

How to Create a Social Story

Visual Schedule Resources


Responses to Grief

Grief is a strong emotion caused by a loss. This loss can include losing a person, a thing, an experience, a job, loss of social connections, or even loss of routines before COVID-19. Everyone experiences grief differently.  This resource describes common examples of ways people react to grief. You might recognize some of these reactions in yourself or your loved ones.

Responses to Grief

Internet Access

Staying connected while engaging in social distancing is important. Internet access is a valuable service during this time: allowing people access to information about COVID-19, access to school-related information, creating social connections to others, and access to other important resources.

However, not everyone has internet access in their homes, and for some individuals with low incomes or fixed budgets, adding an internet connection may not be possible. To help with this, some companies are offering free internet access to low income individuals.

Comcast Internet Essentials

For all new customers, Comcast is offering 2 months of free internet access. For existing Internet Essentials customers, they are increasing internet speeds at no cost. The program costs $9.95 per month, plus tax. There is no contract, no credit check, and no installation fee. You may qualify if you are eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Housing Assistance, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, and others.

Comcast Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots are also open and free to use by anyone.

Internet Essentials


Altice internet providers Suddenlink and Optimum are offering 60 days of free internet service for households with K–12 or college students. Internet speeds are up to 30 Mbps if you do not already have access to a home internet plan. To sign up, call 1-866-200-9522 if you live in an area with Optimum internet service, or call 1-888-633-0030 if you live in an area with Suddenlink internet service.

Charter Spectrum

Households with students K–12 or university students can sign up for a new Charter Spectrum internet account to get the first two months of internet with speeds up to 100 Mbps for free. Installation fees will be waived for those who qualify for the offer. Call 1-844-488-8395 to enroll.

Spectrum Wi-Fi hotspots are also currently open and free to use.

Government Subsidy

There are government subsidies that can help with your internet bill, and many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer low-income internet programs. These inexpensive internet plans, income based programs, and low-income family plans help reduce the cost of staying connected.

FCC Lifeline Program

Food and Lunches

Food Banks

Many community food banks are remaining open throughout the statewide shutdown of nonessential businesses. For individuals or families who have limited resources, or who aren’t working due to the statewide shutdown, local food banks can be a great source for food supplies.

211: Get Help from the United Way of Pennsylvania has a section dedicated to food/meals where you can search for resources in your community. They even have a section specific to those impacted by COVID-19.

211: Get Help Website

School Lunches

It’s recognized that some families rely on no- or low-cost lunches provided through school. With schools closed for at least two weeks, this means that some families no longer have access to these lunches. Pennsylvania sought and received approval from the Federal government to allow schools the option to distribute meals at no cost while schools are closed. Pennsylvania Department of Education is partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, other state agencies, the American Red Cross, and public and private partners to expand these efforts.

Please contact your local school district for information about availability of free lunches.

Unemployment Benefits

Many places of employment are providing their workers with paid time off for work closures due to coronavirus. However,  if leave isn’t available, workers may apply for unemployment benefits.

Pennsylvanians are eligible for unemployment compensation in the following scenarios:

  • Your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business due to COVID-19
  • Your employer reduces your hours because of COVID-19
  • You have been told not to work because your employer feels you might get or spread COVID-19
  • You have been told to quarantine or self-isolate or you live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts

For faster processing, unemployment claims should be submitted online.

If you believe you have been exposed to the coronavirus while at work, you may be eligible for workers compensation as well. To check if you are covered you should:

  • Notify your employer to file a typical “disease-as-injury” WC claim, which requires you to provide medical evidence that you were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • Notify your employer to file an “occupational disease” WC claim, which requires you to show that COVID-19 is occurring more in your occupation/industry than in the general population.

For more information visit:

Office of Unemployment Compensation Website

Insurance Information

The Department of Health has created a page with information related to insurance coverage for COVID-19. For more information on testing coverage, health services, and help lines visit:

Coronavirus Insurance

Scams and Discrimination

Unfortunately, in this time of financial uncertainty, there may be people out there who look to take advantage of others. There are scams around the stimulus checks provided by the government. The following resources provide information on how to identify potential scams, and what to do if you get caught in one.

Being a Careful Reader of Coronavirus Information

This resource provides tips and suggestions for making sure that you’re getting the best and most trustworthy information related to coronavirus. There is information for the general community, as well as self-advocates.

Recognizing and Avoiding Scams

These resources, developed by ASERT, provide information for self-advocates on potential scams around economic stimulus checks being sent as a result of COVID-19, as well as scams around the 2020 Census.

Safeguard Against Disability Discrimination

This resource provides information for individuals with disabilities to ensure equal care and services during COVID-19.

Health Care Quality Units

The eight Health Care Quality Units (HCQU’s) across the state are developing and sharing COVID-19 resources for individuals supported through ODP. To access their information and resources, visit the websites for each of the regions below:


Central PA Health Care Quality Unit

Milestone HCQU West:  Check out Milestone HCQU West’s app that includes lots of great information and resources, including ASERT’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide. Download the app by visiting the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store and searching  “Pocket HCQU.”

KEPRO Southwestern PA HCQU 

Philadelphia Coordinated Health Care

Eastern PA Health Care Quality Unit

South Central PA Health Care Quality Unit

Northeastern PA Health Care Quality Unit

Milestone HCQU Northwest

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Coronavirus What to Know About Coronavirus pdf Download file: Coronavirus
Coronavirus: Spanish What to Know About Coronavirus: Spanish Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Spanish
Coronavirus: Russian What to Know About Coronavirus: Russian Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Russian
Coronavirus: Chinese What to Know About Coronavirus: Chinese Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Chinese
Coronavirus: Arabic What to Know About Coronavirus: Arabic Translation pdf Download file: Coronavirus: Arabic

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or info@PAautism.org. ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.