Parents with autistic children face significant challenges. Autistic children often function best with a routine and controlled schedule and environment. When there are significant disruptions to the autistic child’s day, such as an unexpected trip to a doctor, the result can include sudden behavioral problems and strong reactions. In medicine, a prevailing thought and assumption was that in-person doctor visits were the only successful course of examination and treatment of children with varying degrees of autism. Recent studies suggest the use of mobile healthcare options, namely telemedicine, can help doctors, patients and parents work together to facilitate health care services in a least upsetting setting, which is also more cost-effective and less burdensome for patients and parents in rural communities. As studies and reports measure effectiveness of telemedicine, the medical community is likely to embrace and define protocols and procedures to meet patient needs.
Fears, anxieties, sensory issues and meltdowns
Many children on the autism spectrum experience above average fear and anxiety. Some examples of fears and anxieties include, “loud noises, bright lights, windy and stormy weather and the possibility of being hit by falling trees, meteorites or catching diseases on buses. Unfamiliar things and people, strong smells and particular textures could also upset and disorientate children.[i]” Clearly, a trip to the doctor’s office could challenge an autistic child and the trip in itself could make the condition worse. Keeping the child in a controlled and stable environment can alleviate parents’ concerns about a potentially upsetting trip to the doctor by using mobile healthcare technology.
University of Iowa researchers studied and reported that short video calls using telemedicine technology can be effective in addressing sudden behavioral problems among autistic children, particularly when the child and parents live in rural areas where a trip to the doctor’s office may involve too much external stimulation leading to fear and anxiety.
The objective of the study was to determine whether telemedicine would be a successful lower cost solution to treat young children with autism and other developmental disabilities, where doctors could train parents to implement applied behavior analysis. The abstract is titled, Telehealth and Autism: Treating Challenging Behavior at Lower Cost. The conclusion of the study was that parents can use procedures to treat autism-related behavior problems in person or by remote video coaching, involving telemedicine technology.
“This coaching is more than having a casual talk with families,” Dr. Scott Lindgren, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa, said in a press release. “It’s setting up a variety of situations in which problem behavior may occur, and helping parents find ways to address problems constructively, and to better understand why that behavior is occurring. For 90 percent of the kids we evaluate, we can find a social reason for what that child is doing.[ii]”
Telemedicine, an effective tool for doctors, patients and parents with autism
Using mobile health technologies, telemedicine, to coach parents on the treatment of behavior issues associated with children on the spectrum of autism, doctors can treat their patients and families in a manner that saves time, resources, and the anxiety and fear often experienced by autistic children when traveling to the hospital or doctors office. Especially among rural patients and families, the time, expense and anxiety involved in treating autistic children is more manageable when the doctor uses telemedicine and video coaching. Doctors new to the application of telemedicine to their healthcare practice may seek additional information about protocols and compliance with ethical standards of care as well as any regulations applicable to the inclusion of telemedicine in their practice.
Michael V. Favia and Associates, P.C., works with health care professionals who want to introduce and apply telemedicine technologies to meet the changing needs of patients, while maintaining high ethical standards and protocols of practice.
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[ii] United Press International, Telemedicine effective for parents of autistic children, by Stephen Feller, Apr. 12, 2016.
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