Autism telehealth is here to stay, bringing a wealth of options and services to people with autism and their caregivers. From diagnosticians to therapists to skill-building groups and programs, parents and children are discovering possibilities that weren’t there just a few years ago.
While not all telehealth practitioners are top-notch, and some types of treatment are more effective for individuals, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. This article will discuss telehealth options available for autism diagnosis and treatment, as well as the advantages, disadvantages, and how to find services.
Overview: Autism Telemedicine
Unlike many other disorders, autism cannot be diagnosed with medical tests, cured with medication, and managed through hands-on clinical care. Many patients are children whose parents are willing and able to support diagnosis, treatment, and symptom management, and are eager for training.
Additionally, many motivated parents are seeking hard-to-find therapy or therapists, especially in rural areas. This makes autism a very good candidate for telemedicine.
What is Autism Telemedicine?
Telehealth is a way for practitioners to diagnose and treat patients remotely using technologies such as video conferencing, text messaging, email, online testing, and more. Telehealth is often cheaper and more convenient than in-person visits, although there are limits to what a practitioner can see and do without physical contact.
For parents of children with autism and adults with autism, telehealth offers several important benefits. Specifically, it:
- Provide people with experts and services that are hard to find locally
- Allows parents to participate in training and support programs without leaving home, thereby saving on babysitting and transportation costs
- Make assessment and treatment more affordable
- Provides access to individual practitioners, programs, therapies and care centers hundreds or even thousands of miles away
How telemedicine can be used for autism
Autism Telemedicine Grows Big for a short period of time. Today, qualified practitioners can and will use the Internet to:
- Children (or adults) diagnosed with autism
- Conduct treatment-specific assessments
- Provide therapy such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, or less established but well-regarded therapies and programs such as Floortime
- Train parents to support therapy and manage challenging behaviours and problems
- Offer group programs, such as social skills therapy
- Offers Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a standard talk therapy
Telehealth options to consider
While telehealth may not be ideal, it can be a great option when travel or office visits are difficult or impossible to manage. These are some of the most popular and successful forms of telehealth available to people with autism and their families.
For the most part, telemedicine is fairly new—meaning that research comparing distance versus in-person options is just beginning.
Physical interaction with a child is not necessary to diagnose autism. This means that practitioners can view records, email questionnaires, observe behavior and use face-to-face videoconferencing to conduct specific tests.
This is especially meaningful because a timely and correct diagnosis of autism is difficult due to a lack of qualified developmental pediatricians and neurologists, especially in areas not close to major cities.
Telehealth can speed up the assessment process, allowing families to access appropriate services and treatment more quickly. It could also provide families in more rural areas with high-quality practitioners and clinics that might be associated with teaching hospitals in larger cities.
Diagnosis via telemedicine is relatively new. In order to properly assess its success, it is important to compare the results of the remote diagnosis with the results of the in-person diagnosis. At least one study has done this, and the results are positive. But more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Therapy and Parent Training
The vast majority of well-established autism treatments — including behavioral and developmental therapy, speech therapy, social skills therapy, and occupational therapy, among others — require little or no physical interaction.
Additionally, preliminary research suggests that distance therapy and face-to-face therapy show little difference in quality or outcomes. Here’s good news for parents:
- do not have easy access to high-quality therapists in their area
- Limited time or unavailable during typical business hours
- Involve other children in need of childcare while the child with autism is in treatment
For some parents, another major advantage of telehealth is the ability to access some lesser-known forms of autism treatment for their children.
While schools may offer behavioral, speech, and social skills therapy, developmental therapies such as Floortime, Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), or specific types of behavioral therapy are only available regionally. With telehealth, families have a wider range of options.
Experiments have also been carried out in parent training in autism treatment with notable success. For example, the well-regarded Denver model relies on parent training. One study found no significant difference in outcomes when parents received online versus face-to-face training.
Even parental training for challenging behaviors appears to be effective at a distance, according to at least one study.
Limitations of Autism Telemedicine
While autism telemedicine has great advantages, it also has some limitations. For example, one study found that online social skills groups for autistic teens had only modest success compared to face-to-face programs.
Some types of therapy, such as sensory integration and some forms of occupational therapy and physical therapy, are true hands-on therapy. While parents can be trained to implement some aspects of these therapies, only a trained and properly equipped professional can provide a complete treatment plan.
Online parent support groups can be useful, but have their limitations. One of the most important aspects of a parent support group is the ability to share local information about schools, community services, funding, and more.
When a group is made up of parents from different regions, that kind of sharing is less meaningful—though emotional support can be just as helpful.
How to Get Autism Telehealth
Clinicians are not required to provide telemedicine for autism, but most people are willing and able to do so. If access to telehealth is an important factor in your provider search, ask ahead of time if any given provider is open to online diagnosis or treatment. You can also find information about telehealth options on the provider’s website.
It’s important to remember that telemedicine does rely on an up-to-date computer, tablet or phone capable of running programs like Zoom, and requires very good internet access to work properly.
Additionally, in order to obtain telehealth services for autism (especially for children or adults with more severe symptoms), the responsible adult must be present in person to make calls, address any behavioral concerns, help maintain focus, and answer any questions. problems that arise.
Although relatively new, telemedicine for autism has been studied and may be as effective as in-person services in many cases. It can also be a lifesaver for families who have difficulty or even inability to find high-quality services nearby. Families have access to telehealth services for a wide range of needs, including diagnosis, treatment, and parent training.
It is exciting that clinicians near and far can successfully deliver autism treatment in many different ways. If you’re struggling to find or receive treatment for a loved one with autism, it’s worth your time to research online options. You may find that more accessible therapies lead to more successful outcomes.