How to Choose an Online Autism Treatment Program
September 01, 2011
Jamie Pagliaro is executive vice president and co-creator of Rethink Autism, an award-winning educational technology company headquartered in New York City. He has spent the past 15 years working in programs for individuals with autism and related disorders. Prior to Rethink Autism, Jamie was executive director of the New York Center for Autism Charter School, New York’s first charter school exclusively dedicated to serving students with autism.
Penelope Gelwicks is a staff writer for Rethink Autism and also coordinates family support. Her brother was diagnosed with autism at age 3 and was homeschooled by her family.
In many school and early intervention systems, staff expertise and funding cannot keep up with the rising need for autism services. At home, parents are also looking for the best tools to supplement their child’s school services or in-home therapy. Technology has helped to supply those needs in ways that would not have been anticipated even a few years ago. We have gone from chalkboards to PowerPoint, from notebooks to iPads.
For students with autism, is there a difference between traditional service delivery models versus treatment tools delivered through technology, or, more specifically, online? Or is online learning the solution that will level the playing field for an exploding autism population in need of services?
Whether considering online Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) or popular “autism apps,” online treatment tools for parents and professionals are an attractive solution, but sufficient criteria must be established to evaluate the growing list of options.
What should I consider?
Start with the same criteria you would use for any treatment option, online or off.
The first question to ask is if the intervention method is backed by scientific research. Read up on the intervention, as seen in both traditional settings (i.e., delivered in-person by a therapist) and within an online delivery setting. Also, determine if peer-reviewed studies have validated the effectiveness of the intervention.
Next, since research shows that early and intensive intervention is the key to success for children with autism, ask if the program is intensive enough to bring real results.
Research also suggests that parental involvement in treatment can help the child make more significant strides. Parents should ask whether the treatment puts them in an active role or a passive one. If you are looking at a treatment option that targets one set of skills, like speech, for example, make sure you are prepared to find other interventions for other areas of concern (e.g., social skills, activities of daily living, language development). It may also be useful to show the online program to a therapist or teacher who knows your child well and can offer insight. Cost, of course, will be a factor in narrowing down your choices.
Not all online programs for autism treatment are created equal.
Narrow the field by looking at whom the product is geared toward: parents, professionals, or both. Even more importantly, find out who is behind the product, vouching for its effectiveness and clinical integrity. Many online treatment providers collaborate with scientists and experts in the field to develop their content. If the online treatment product does not clearly demonstrate that the company offering it is receiving clinical oversight by well-established professionals, consider this a red flag.
No treatment, online or otherwise, should be implemented without professional support. Thus, the quality of customer care and support should factor in to your decision. Find out what types of clinical and technical support is provided and how easy it is to access. You want to have sufficient guidance to customize your online treatment to the specific needs of each student with autism and have the option to reach out for help. Also, determine if the company has clinicians who are available to train you on the program and whether additional clinical support options are available if needed. If clinical support and training are not inclusive in the online program, consider whether you will have the time and resources to develop your own support system.
To review, consider these factors when you evaluate online treatments and if they will help you:
The best online autism treatment products will offer already-proven intervention strategies in a scalable and cost-effective online format, and ongoing clinical and technical support for their users from experienced professionals.
For more information on selecting research-based autism treatment, please visit: http://www.rethinkautism.com/AboutAutism/TreatmentOptions/.
Rethink Autism makes research-based educational treatment tools accessible, affordable, and easy to use for parents and professionals around the world. Our dynamic Web-based platform includes a comprehensive curriculum with over 1,200 video-based exercises, staff/parent training modules, and automated data tracking – all developed by leaders in the field of autism. We also offer a range of technology-enabled remote service options, ranging from short-term consultation to ongoing systems-change initiatives supported by our team of professional educators and clinicians. Visit our home page to sign up for free weekly video tips: www.rethinkautism.com.