Telehealth and ABA therapy during COVID-19 - What you need to know to decide if it will work for your child

June 2, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are still under shelter-in-place ordinances to limit exposure. Social distancing is widely encouraged. Telehealth, receiving health services via remote platform, is preferable to many.

Angela Pao-Johnson and Allison Siegel

AnswersNow Team

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are still under shelter-in-place ordinances to limit exposure. Social distancing is widely encouraged. Telehealth, receiving health services via remote platform, is preferable to many.

Telehealth services that may not have been offered previously, such as with ABA therapy, have now been launched with many insurance companies reimbursing for either some or all ABA service codes. 

What is telehealth? 

Telehealth is when a health service that was once provided in-person is provided remotely and often in the individual’s own home. Most often the service is provided via a platform that typically enables video-conferencing like Doxy, Zoom, or Skype. Some insurance companies will also reimburse for telephonic communications. Just yesterday, to maintain my sanity while being quarantined with my two young children, I checked in with my mental health therapist by logging into a Doxy link provided by her. Within seconds, she appeared before the screen and our session began more or less like it did previously when we were able to meet in person. The pros of telehealth includes accessibility to the same or similar services while eliminating exposure to COVID-19. One con of telehealth? The lack of face-to-face interaction can make it feel less personal. While telehealth is a great alternative when other options are not available, not safe, or just not convenient (ex. rush hour traffic!), some users have experienced technical difficulties that interrupt their sessions or feel that their practitioner/clinician isn’t as well equipped to perform their service digitally. This can be countered by minimizing the network usage in your house - and perhaps just taking a deep breath if there’s buffering, remembering it usually passes within a few seconds.         

What does telehealth look like for ABA therapy? 

I recently observed one of the clinicians I work with conduct a remote assessment for a child with autism. The family logged onto the link provided to her and popped up on the screen. The parent answered questions in the parent interview just as she would have if the clinician was present. The clinician was able to interact and observe the child in his natural environment. However, the rapport was markedly different, and the child’s parents had to be more involved. Interactions between clinician and child were restricted to what could be portrayed on the screen - videos could be watched on a shared screen, and they drew pictures using a shared whiteboard. ABA services can be conducted via telehealth, but not all clients can benefit from all services. The degree of success is dependent on what skills are already in the child’s repertoire. If the child can sit and attend for longer periods of time and follow instructions with little follow-through, the child may be a good candidate for tele-ABA therapy. 

At AnswersNow, we create a video-based ABA therapy service that is very similar to in-person ABA therapy. The process starts with an assessment of needs between the clinician, child, and parent. Based upon that interaction, the clinician builds a personalized treatment plan. Once the treatment plan has been approved by the parent and their insurance company, direct treatment begins through video-service. Children interact directly with our board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) to complete skill-building activities, such as matching cards, labeling objects, increasing communication - just like they would in person.

A big part of the AnswersNow approach is to incorporate parent training into the treatment plan. Studies show that even just once a month training session, teaching caregivers how to continue to practice what the clinicians have started teaching, can drastically improve the success of their child. When working with AnswersNow, we place great importance on parent participation in these training sessions, and they are an essential part of our treatment plans. 

What are some best practices regarding telehealth ABA service?      

The Council of Autism Service Providers (CASP) recommends the following: 

  • The telehealth platform should comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations. This helps to protect patient privacy and confidentiality. Most insurance companies will not reimburse for telehealth unless the provider uses a HIPAA-compliant platform
  • Usage of an electronic device (e.g. laptop, tablet, or computer) with a built-in or external video camera. Additional monitors to allow for various vantage points suggested. 
  • Headset for noise reduction
  • White noise machine to further protect patient privacy

Will my insurance reimburse ABA telehealth services? 

AnswersNow now accepts major insurance plans. Check out if you have coverage at www.getanswersnow.com/insurance.



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