Telehealth Training to Improve Access to Autism Services

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Telemedicine has improved access to care for both low acuity ailments and chronic conditions, and continues to help underserved populations receive essential medical care. One population that could begin to see the benefit of telemedicine would be parents of children with autism. The prevalence of autism has increased significantly within the past two years. Unfortunately, intervention services have not; leaving a significant percentage of the population underserved. Through telehealth training, parents may begin to see the possibilities of telemedicine in assisting their child with autism.

Michigan State University recently participated in a federally funded pilot program where telehealth training was used to teach parents of children with autism intervention techniques. The study required the parents of children with autism to complete one 75-minute self-directed online lesson per week over the course of 12 weeks, and practice the intervention techniques with their child. Half of the parents also received two 30-minute coaching sessions with a therapist via video-conferencing in addition to the self-directed online lesson.

Study results indicate that both parents and children benefited from this training. Parents noticed an improvement in the social communication skills of their children. Parents also experienced improvements in their own knowledge, competency, and stress level. Moreover, the parents who received coaching sessions in addition to the self-directed lessons saw greater gains in their ability to use the techniques taught. This form of telehealth “training” allows for low-cost, low-intensity care for all families. As a result, parents of the future who struggle to find or afford therapy for their child with autism may be able to provide that therapy themselves, all thanks to telehealth training.