Teletherapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder – Evidence Based Practice

June 30, 2021By: Taina Jimenez Lopez, SLP.D. CCC-SLP

Research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) continues to be published and new ways of treatment are continuing to be developed. This includes teletherapy, which is a service delivery model that allows children access to the help they need, this is especially relevant to children who would otherwise not have access due to location or other barriers. Teletherapy also allows for already proven therapy methods to be implemented successfully. In this blog post, learn more about the why and how behind teletherapy services for autism spectrum disorder.

1 in 54 children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (Maenner et al., 2020). About 1% of the world population has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (CDC, n.d.). By looking at these statistics it can be said that autism spectrum disorder (ASD) could be considered one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities of our time. It could also be safe to say that as you read this you can name more than one child or adult with autism spectrum disorder. Although the causes of ASD are unknown, scientists believe that the disorder can be linked back to genetic factors, numerous environmental factors, and can affect any socioeconomic group (NIH, 2018). 

What is Teletherapy?

Teletherapy or Telepractice is a service delivery model that uses telecommunication technology to deliver clinical services between a clinician and patient that are at a distance. This model can be used for assessments, intervention, and consultations. In 2005 it was determined appropriate that speech-language pathologists could serve students via telepractice. The use of teletherapy as a service delivery model requires that services maintain a standard of care equivalent to those services provided in-person (ASHA, n.d.). 

Is Telepractice for Autism Spectrum Disorder effective?

It can be hard to understand the idea of supporting a student that requires social interaction guidance via a video conference call. Questions about how a speech-language pathologist works on goals for verbal and non-verbal communication and social pragmatics are constantly brought to the table when considering if teletherapy is the right model for services.

In 2010, Boisvert et al. completed a systematic review of assessment procedures via telepractice with individuals with autism spectrum disorder and revealed that telepractice is a promising approach for this purpose. Baharav & Reiser (2010) suggested that telepractice can help maximize the resources of a team when using the technology for coaching parents of children with autism spectrum disorder and make gains in the targeted skills.

In a clinical study, Boisvert et al. (2012) indicated that a student receiving services via telepractice demonstrated progress in their goals and responded favorably to the intervention when compared to a student receiving services in person. This shows that services via telepractice and in-person were comparable in the results of increasing the targeted skills.

Further teletherapy research is needed to continue evidencing the successful use of telepractice in servicing individuals with ASD. The foundations in the field of speech-language pathology allow clinicians to make informed decisions when determining candidacy for telepractice and implementing evidence-based practices into the service delivery model. Teletherapy has also been proven successful in other fields working with individuals with autism spectrum disorder, such as Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA therapy.

How does it work?

Telepractice provides a flexible environment that can support modifications to already proven techniques and materials used during in-person services for students with autism spectrum disorder. Therapy interventions that require indirect approaches are easy to apply to the telepractice model.

Teletherapy can be ideal for students that find technology interesting and can also be beneficial to reduce the stimulation of a therapy room by allowing the student to access the services from the space they feel most comfortable in.

A key element of teletherapy is the facilitator. This person will be the clinician’s ally on the student side to carry out activities, provide prompts and cues as directed by the clinician, and help generalize goals in class. The facilitator can be the student’s one-to-one aide, a teacher assistant, a classroom paraprofessional, or an SLPA. Their role will be essential regardless of the grade level of the student to carry out a teletherapy session successfully.

Teletherapy tips for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

The use of visual schedules and picture communication systems can easily be applied to the telepractice service delivery model. These pictures can be printed out on the student side as well as presented in a digital version on the computer screen. Organizing sessions based on the student’s needs for sensory breaks and reinforcement will support the student in feeling successful after a teletherapy session.

Using social stories in a digital format can help students generalize concepts they had been working on in tabletop activities previous to starting teletherapy. The implementation of digital resources and online applications, such as boom cards, can help the student increase their engagement and grab their interest to work on otherwise routine activities.

Teletherapy can be a great model to teach safe use of the internet and social media. Most students with ASD are working on social communication to understand the ins and outs of everyday interactions. Telepractice can support the translation of these skills into the virtual setting. Taking advantage of each video conference session and using indirect approaches can support the student in having a one-on-one experience with virtual interactions and how to respond appropriately.

Is teletherapy for autism right for my child?

Teletherapy is not a one-stop-shop for all and does not guarantee success. When a student starts teletherapy there needs to be a consideration of their candidacy for the service delivery model. ASHA recommends considering the following factors:

  • physical and sensory characteristics
  • cognitive, behavioral, and/or motivational characteristics
  • communication characteristics
  • student’s support resources (ASHA, n.d.)

Helping a student transition to teletherapy services and acknowledging their frustrations with the change can help the student be successful with teletherapy. Clinicians have the responsibility to communicate and collaborate with the student’s educational team to ensure that the provided interventions are successful. These consultations will provide the team with the necessary information to determine if teletherapy is the adequate model for their services.

Getting started with Teletherapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

VocoVision offers jobs to licensed and experienced clinicians around the country ready to work with students across the nation to provide teletherapy services for schools. Teletherapy brings down geographical barriers to allow the best clinician to reach your child regardless of where the school is. We take pride in connecting clinicians with students that need services that would otherwise not receive them. Consider telepractice to be bridging the gap in the learning process of students across the nation.

To learn more about our telepractice positions, check out our open teletherapy jobs by clicking the button below!

References:

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Telepractice. (Practice Portal). Retrieved May, 25, 2021, from www.asha.org/Practice-Portal/Professional-Issues/Telepractice/.

Maenner MJ, Shaw KA, Baio J, et al. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States, 2016. MMWR Surveill Summ 2020;69(No. SS-4):1–12. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.ss6904a1

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (n.d.). Data & statistics on autism spectrum disorder. Retrieved May, 25, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.

Baharav E, Reiser C. (2010). Using telepractice in parent training in early autism. Telemed J E Health,16(6), 727-31. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2010.0029. PMID: 20583950.

Boisvert M., Hall, N., Andrianopoulos, M., Chaclas, J. (2012). The multifaceted implementation of telepractice to service individuals with autism. International Journal of Telerehabilitation, 4 (2), 11-23. doi: 10.5195/ijt.2012.6104

Boisvert, M., Lang, R., Andrianopoulos, M., Boscardin, M.L. (2010). Telepractice in the assessment and treatment of individuals with autusm spectrum disorders: A systematic review. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 13(6), 423-432. doi: 10.3109/17518423.2010.499889 National Institute of Mental Health (2018). Autism Spectrum Disorder. Retrieved May 25, 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/#part1.

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