Telehealth and Online ABA Therapy During This Challenging Time (COVID-19)
In-home ABA therapy has been a standard means of helping children with autism learn to cope better with anger, aggression, anxiety, and frustration. Most of the techniques and tools used in ABA therapy are proven effective when children with autism are unable to receive their needed supports in the schools they attend. If your child has been receiving ABA home care, you are probably now in limbo with how you can continue to get these services for your child in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following illustrates the movement from in-home services to telehealth and online therapy approaches.
Training Parents to Be the Therapists
It’s a lot to ask of parents who are already stuck at home all day and are now their children’s full-time teacher with “distance” learning and virtual schooling. However, becoming your child’s therapist may be necessary until the pandemic passes and your child’s regular in-home therapist can return to his or her work with your child. It will take the pairing of ABA therapy professionals and yourself to assist your child in these times so that your child does not lose any progress he or she has gained through the previous therapy sessions.
If it is possible to conduct therapy this way, you will first meet a few times a week to learn about how the therapy works and how sessions are usually conducted. Your child’s therapist will video chat with you over whatever computer or phone applications are easiest for both of you. In many cases, special computer applications are used by professional therapists for therapy. These special applications make the line very secure against hackers, who might use confidential information to which they should not have access.
During parent-only sessions, the therapist will talk about what he/she had been working on with your child, what the purpose of those activities was, and the expected direction in which to take the activities next. Be sure to take notes because you will need to continue the therapy activities in the same manner as the therapist if your child is to continue along with expected development levels.
Your child’s therapist will also want to know what materials you have in your home that could be used for the purpose of therapy sessions. If you do not have many or any of the materials, the therapist can order them online and have these materials shipped to you so that you have them for you and your child’s use at home. The therapist will explain how to use these materials and for what amount of time during each session.
The Parent as the Therapist and Certain Issues
In some states, this approach to ABA therapy is not accepted by insurance companies unless the parent is officially trained and certified as a parent telehealth ABA therapist. Insurance accepted ABA therapy via certified parent and overseeing professional therapist can take up to a year to acquire, which is currently not the situation that fits your life during the pandemic.
Ergo, what happens next is a hybrid situation of therapy. The parent sits with the child while video chatting with the therapist and acts as the body and hands of the therapist if the therapist were actually present. The parent avoids speaking while the therapist is talking during the session, and the parent is only there to set up activities and help physical demonstrations. This is accepted by most insurance providers for remote learning in very rural areas, which is why it is acceptable under the pandemic circumstances.
Online Only Therapy
In this instance, the therapy sessions are broken down by activity and instructions for each activity. The parent opens the website, checks for daily or every other day activities, reads the instructions and then sits down to do therapy with his/her child. The sessions are organized by a real therapist and monitored over time by that therapist.
For example, an activity requests that your child sort blocks by color. It seems very basic until your child has to sort out four piles of different-colored blocks and is required to complete the task before moving on to something more pleasurable or fun. Kids on the spectrum can become frustrated with this task because it requires attention, focus, and time.
You as the parent monitor how long it took your child to complete the task, record the time and any problems your child encountered, and any progress your child made. The therapist that oversees online therapy gets copies of your progress notes to review and tweaks each activity to increase success and/or difficulty levels. Keeping notes during your home therapy sessions clues the therapist into what else he/she can do to help your child and what activities might be really beneficial.
Parent Support Groups
If you are in any way, shape or form now your child’s therapist as well as his or her classroom teacher, you are going to need some support too. Find out where, when, and how other parents of children with autism are virtually meeting and connect with them. They can provide you with a lot of emotional support during this very challenging time.
Additionally, other parents can discuss some of the different therapies and activities they have used with their children. No two kids on the autism spectrum are exactly the same. What works for one family in ABA will not work for another, but being able to communicate with other parents who use ABA at home can help you find some alternatives and some suggestions on what to try with your child. Just be sure to run the ideas past your child’s therapist to see if the therapist thinks these parent-suggested activities will work for your child.
Finally, when the parent groups aren’t meeting, you can at least make a connection with one or two other parents who have had a really hard time with their children. It helps to know that you are not alone in this, even though it may feel like that sometimes. Their added support will help you get through the major stresses of raising, teaching, and providing therapy for your child while everyone is stuck at home during this very weird time in history.