Virtual Support, Real ProgressHow parents can harness the power of telehealth for effective autism care

Telehealth has gone through a major transformation since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Once narrowly used, it was widely adopted during the lockdowns of 2020. Many families turned to telehealth to continue essential care for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DDs). That shift helped change the conversation about where care can happen.

Studies have long shown that telehealth treatment–including diagnostic and functional behavior assessments, caregiver-implemented services, and caregiver consultations–is just as effective as in-person care; participants in a recent ASD study mastered and maintained a broad range of target language, social, coping and tolerance skills using telehealth direct therapy.1

Though the pandemic is largely behind us, caregivers can still use various telehealth services to maintain or improve their child’s care, increase engagement, and improve quality of life. And among its many benefits for payers and providers, telehealth also increases access and capacity.

Telehealth benefits

  • Family-centered care — While some organizations have taken the position that in-person care is better, studies don’t bear this out. Of course, some families may still prefer in-person care. Yet for many, juggling often-intensive care with work, school and siblings’ needs make telehealth a major convenience. At Catalight, we believe that having choice is key to person-centered care: families can choose what works best for them (and can change that choice as needed).
  • Better access — Some rural areas may still face internet connectivity issues, but telehealth removes geographic constraints and expands available provider options–critical to families living in the 80%-plus of U.S. counties lacking access to ASD diagnostic resources.2 For provider networks, telehealth also has the potential to greatly expand capacity. Practitioners who spend an hour getting to and from a 50-minute appointment can theoretically double the number of families they can help.
  • Increased engagement  The transparency of telehealth gives caregivers access to observe skill acquisition and behavior management strategies. This increased awareness and understanding gives parents the confidence to try new strategies and build the best care ecosystem possible. Conducting therapy in a safe space like home makes clients more comfortable and eliminates the potential sensory overload of visiting an office, setting them up for success.
  • Improved quality of life — It’s no secret that the life of a parent raising a child with ASD can be stressful. Traveling for care, paying for expensive treatment and trying to understand opaque care systems can lead to frustration and burnout. Telehealth can lessen some of these caregiver headaches, improving quality of life for both caregivers and their children. In some cases, switching to remote care can also lower overall costs: one study found parents paid $57.95 per week for remote care versus $335.09 per week for in-person care.3

Overcoming Challenges

Though most evidence points to the positive benefits of remote care, telehealth still has its challenges. Various factors affect the viability of telehealth therapy from client to client, including prerequisite skills, caregiver availability and internet access. Certain skills might be harder to teach via telehealth. For instance, play skills can be difficult to teach via telehealth, while language skills lend themselves more easily to remote care.4 Parents of young children may also want to limit screen time because of its effect on brain development.5

Regardless of the specific circumstances, telehealth represents one strategy in the broader care picture. That’s why caregivers need a proven partner like Catalight to help them navigate an unfamiliar remote care landscape.

Looking ahead

While the emerging evidence is promising, more research is needed to know the long-term benefits of utilizing telehealth for ASD treatment. As it stands now, treating ASD via telehealth has demonstrated value well beyond the recent public health crisis.

Catalight has pioneered the use of telehealth services in the behavioral health care landscape. It’s one of many ways that Catalight focuses on individuals, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. By providing families with choices and options, people with ASD and other I/DDs and their families can choose their path and adjust as needed. As behavioral health care evolves and grows, Catalight will continue to use technology to help individuals get high-quality treatment and improve quality of life and wellbeing for the entire family.

[1] Effectiveness of Telehealth Direct Therapy for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

[2]  Telehealth Approaches to Care Coordination in Autism Spectrum Disorder

[3] ABA Training via Telehealth for Caregivers of Children with Autism: A Review of the Literature

[4] Effectiveness of Telehealth Direct Therapy for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

[5] Screen Time at Age 1 Year and Communication and Problem-Solving Developmental Delay at 2 and 4 Years