Neurology Central

Study highlights potential of telehealth for autism therapy provision

A pilot study carried out at Michigan State University (MI, USA) has revealed that telehealth training may represent a viable method for teaching parents to provide therapy for autistic children themselves. The findings, which were published recently in Autism and the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, have potentially significant implications for parents that struggle to locate or afford therapy from healthcare professionals.

The prevalence of autism has dramatically increased throughout the past two decades; however the availability of intervention services for parents has not increased comparably.

The current study recruited 28 parents of children diagnosed with autism, all of which completed one 75 minute self-directed online lesson per week, for a total of 12 weeks. The intervention techniques learnt were also practiced with their child. In addition, 50% of the parents also received two 30 minute coaching sessions per week from a professional therapist through video conferencing software.

Telehealth training was shown to benefit both parents and children in each of the groups, however parents who received the additional therapist assistance illustrated greater gains in their ability to exercise the intervention techniques. Improvements were seen for both groups in the children’s social communication as well as in the parent’s competence in providing therapy and their stress levels, a common psychological impact experienced by parents of autistic children.

Brooke Ingersoll, lead investigator on the study, commented: “We now have good preliminary evidence that telehealth can increase access to parent training interventions for families of young children with autism spectrum disorder.

She continued: “The ultimate goal is to use these types of methods to assist parents who live in rural and medically underserved areas, underrepresented groups and even countries that don’t have the infrastructure for more intensive service delivery.”

Ingersoll is now looking to investigate the optimum levels of training intensity for different families, in order to develop a stepped-care model. This will help to identify parents that would benefit most from the addition of coaching via video conferencing, as this would both be limited to specific times of the day and come at a higher cost than self-directed training.

“There is a lot of excitement about the use of telehealth technology for autism spectrum disorder, but at the same time we still need more research and information on how to best deliver it,” concluded Ingersoll.

Source: Michigan State University press release