KEY POINTS

  • CDC has said one 1 in 54 children in the U.S. have autism
  • Seeking help and a confirmed diagnosis of autism could take up to 1.8 to 5 years
  • A delayed diagnosis could lead to poor outcomes
  • The new research shows telehealth could speed up ASD diagnosis

There is a significant delay in getting assessed for neurodevelopmental disorders like autism. But a new survey shows online tools and assessments can accelerate the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers at the Swansea University Medical School in the U.K. found that telehealth — a healthcare field that involves internet-based tools — has the potential to improve services in autism care. The survey results are timely as the current pandemic situation is prompting ideas about online services.

While telehealth is already used successfully in several specialties including cardiology, radiology, mental health, and for monitoring people with diabetes and high blood pressure, this is the first review pertaining to the use of telehealth to support the diagnostic assessment of autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 54 children in the U.S. has autism. Conventionally, it could take several years after someone first seeks help to confirm autism diagnosis. Due to a shortage of expertise, it can take several appointments and the process can be very stressful for individuals who might later be diagnosed with the disorder. Moreover, such specialist services could require a lot of traveling for families of children with autism.

Delays in autism diagnosis could also lead to poor outcomes for both the child and the family. 

The review identified two main approaches to using telehealth in autism diagnosis:

  1. Real-time methods like videoconferencing that enable several health professionals in different specialties to meet in real-time with the family of the child for an assessment. This could reduce the need for multiple appointments as well as travel.
  2. The store-and-forward method lets parents upload videos of their child’s behavior into web portals which clinicians can use to assess. This could enable better assessment since it allows the specialists to see a child in their everyday surroundings.

The researchers said these approaches could be favorable for both families as well as clinicians. At the same time, they could have good diagnostic accuracy at a reduced cost and it enables access to a wide range of professionals. These options can also be favorable to divorced parents who can take part in the diagnostic process remotely.

"Telehealth methods allow for collaboration and the sharing of experiences between the family, education and ASD experts. They can be just as good as face-to-face methods in terms of satisfaction for the patient, family and clinician," the study’s co-author Sinead Brophy said.

autism-4982235_1920 Autism diagnosis using online tools Photo: hatice97erol, Pixabay