Telehealth Boosts Autism Care Accessibility, Expert Asserts

Dr. Cynthia R. Johnson

On the eve of World Autism Awareness Day, Dr. Cynthia R. Johnson, a leading psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, highlighted the benefits of telehealth and parent-mediated interventions in improving outcomes for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

With around 1 in 100 children affected globally, according to the World Health Organization, access to care is a significant concern.

“Families can be a really powerful resource to help children learn developmentally appropriate skills, enhance their independence, and harness their unique abilities,” stated Dr. Johnson, emphasizing the impact of family engagement in therapeutic processes. The pandemic spurred innovation in telehealth delivery methods for parent training, which have shown promising results equivalent to in-person sessions.

Cleveland Clinic Children’s, in collaboration with Case Western Reserve University, has been conducting extensive research on the effectiveness of these telehealth programs. Their sleep intervention study showed that virtual training for parents could match the success of traditional methods. “The preliminary results have been encouraging, demonstrating that family involvement is beneficial and that many families prefer to be engaged in the child’s therapy,” Dr. Johnson said.

The training programs teach parents to use applied behavior analysis techniques to address behavioral, feeding, and sleep issues. These not only aid the child but also improve the family’s overall well-being and reduce parental stress.

Dr. Johnson underscored the importance of early intervention in ASD, which can be detected as early as the first year of life. Symptoms like delayed speech, lack of conventional eye contact, and repetitive behaviors can be early indicators. Early diagnosis and intervention are crucial in mitigating developmental disruptions.

Looking forward, Dr. Johnson is optimistic about the future of ASD interventions. “Our research… has the potential to improve access to care for children with autism, while benefitting the family as a whole,” she noted. Hybrid models combining in-person and telehealth interventions could provide tailored solutions for individual family needs.


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