Keeping an autistic child focused is not the easiest task. It can be even more complicated in a busy doctor’s office where there are often distractions like puzzles, games and televisions. But thanks to telehealth, what used to be a distraction can now be a tool for kids with autism to connect with their doctors.
“Imagine having a hyperactive child with a high sensory issue,” said Dr. Kristen Sohl, the medical director at the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri-Columbia. “Trying to talk to a distracted parent about daily habits and examine a child while the child is being a child can be difficult for both the physician and the parent.”
“It seems that when they see me on the TV and they see me talking to them on the TV, they become so fascinated and I am able to keep their attention and give the proper diagnosis because they are talking to the TV,” Sohl said.
The Thompson Center offers a range of health, educational and behavioral services in one location for individuals with autism and other developmental concerns. Parents of children with autism who live far from the Center can teleconference with doctors instead.
“Telehealth treatment is all about the patient,” said Sohl. “What we do is all patient-centeredness and not doctor-centeredness… We ensure that we talk and discuss every aspect of life. We leave nothing out.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that one out of every 110 children is autistic. Autism has no known cause – or cure. Signs of autism include impaired social interactions, delayed communication skills, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Parents who notice these signs are advised to contact their child’s pediatrician and seek referral for a screening. Early therapy and interventions has been known to bring about substantial improvement.
“We have had patients who knew of our services from other states and would have to travel hundreds of miles across the state just to get the specialized care that their child needed,” said Sohl. “Because of the hyperactivity of their child the ride was so stressful and unsafe. We offered them the telehealth services though they were from another state and they moved within the county just to receive the care that their child needed.”