ST CLOUD -- The number of people with autism spectrum disorder is on the rise nationally - but access to services remains a challenge.

On Wednesday night, Minnesota Department of Human Services representatives held a meeting on the topic in the St. Cloud Public Library's Bremer room. Around 20 attendees had the chance to review information and ask questions to demystify the process of accessing state services for children and young adults, ages birth to 21, with autism.

Nicole Berning is the DHS' Autism Policy Lead. She says the biggest barrier to services at the moment is a statewide shortage of people who can diagnose autism, which opens up access to medical, educational and behavioral assistance.

In some cases, says Berning, waiting lists for appointments to even diagnose autism are over a year long.

Berning says the St. Cloud area, with around 80 licensed diagnostic professionals, is a step ahead of many others.

"There's a provider shortage everywhere, but St. Cloud is doing well, compared to other pockets of the state. We didn't have half this number of providers this time last year."

Taylor Byrne, Clinical Director for Behavior Care Specialists in St. Cloud, attended the meeting. She says, while the St. Cloud area is still facing a shortage, telehealth technology, which allows patients to be evaluated remotely, has made it easier to get patients seen, diagnosed and connected with services quickly.

"Maybe you live in a rural community. There may be a provider in Minneapolis or St. Cloud that can telehealth into your family's home and conduct that testing without having to travel."

Berning says they'll continue to host meetings around the state to connect families with care providers and state programs.

"We want them to know that they don't have to be stuck. There are resources out there."

To see a list of state resources related to autism spectrum disorder, visit the Minnesota Department of Human Services online.