ABA Telehealth

Reviewed by:
Hannah Andreasen
M.Ed BCBA

October 18, 2022

Technological advances and more widespread internet access have made it possible to participate in applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy over the internet—referred to as telehealth.

ABA is a behavioral approach to autism treatment. Children with autism can receive ABA services in a variety of locations, including autism treatment centers, schools, and at home.

What is Telehealth?

Telehealth allows you to meet with healthcare and behavioral health professionals without seeing them in person. This can be done over the phone or—more commonly—over the internet with a video chat. 

The term telehealth includes different forms of communication with a provider, including:

  • Talking to your provider live on the phone or by video chat
  • Sending and receiving written messages from your provider
  • Monitoring you remotely 

Why Is Telehealth Used?

Telehealth has become an increasingly popular option for managing health and behavioral appointments. 

This option can be more convenient for both patients and providers, making it easier to get an appointment in a timely manner. It also can help prevent the spread of infectious illnesses by eliminating the need to go to an office with other people who may be ill.

What Does ABA Telehealth Look Like?

Conducting ABA therapy with telehealth looks a lot like in-person ABA sessions. However, instead of the therapist being just a few feet away, they can be miles away. 

Although the ABA therapist is not physically in the room, they will still be able to see and interact with the child through cameras and monitors. Ideally, the therapy area will contain more than one camera so the therapist can see the child even when they are not right in front of the monitor. 

Depending on the child’s sensory sensitivities, they may use headphones or speakers to be able to hear their therapist’s instructions. 

A selection of the child’s favorite toys and activities should also be close by during therapy. 

Your therapist may request that parents or caregivers stay close during the therapy session. The therapist may also communicate with parents by phone or text.

You can expect to receive the same number of hours of therapy by telehealth as for in-person therapy. People who switched to telehealth ABA treatment from in-person treatment still received a similar number of therapy hours as they did when they were being treated in person. 

The caregiver and therapist will discuss a protocol and schedule for the session to make sure it fits your child’s needs.

Six Factors to Help Decide if ABA Telehealth Is Right for You

There are many ways to participate in ABA therapy. Telehealth is a relatively new way to receive ABA therapy. Many of the benefits of telehealth are the same as receiving in-home ABA therapy. There are several factors to consider before you start ABA telehealth. 

  1. Convenience

Scheduling a virtual ABA therapy session can be more convenient. It can save time and money spent commuting to another location. Additionally, the therapist may have more availability because they do not have to schedule commuting time if they are doing in-home therapy. 

  1. Familiarity

The child may feel more comfortable participating in ABA therapy in an environment they are familiar with. When the child is at home, the therapist gets to see how the child reacts in their natural environment. However, this may be more difficult to observe over video versus in person. 

  1. Geographic Location

If you are in a region with limited autism treatment resources, telehealth services can open many more treatment opportunities for your child. 

  1. Caregiver Involvement

Telehealth ABA sessions usually require more parent or caregiver involvement than in-person sessions. While it is a positive thing to involve parents in therapy, it might not be possible for some families for several reasons. 

Telehealth services may allow a family member to participate that might otherwise not have been able to. If the session is recorded, family members not present for the session can watch it and learn the strategies and techniques taught during the session. 

Caregivers will be responsible for preparing the child for therapy. They should be available to introduce the therapist and may want to share what activity the child was involved in right before therapy so that the ABA therapist can transition the child into the therapy session. After the session is over, parents may want to help the child transition out of therapy by providing another activity such as other screen time or videogame time. 

  1. Access to Technology

To have a successful ABA therapy session, it is important to have access to a reliable internet connection and a device with videoconferencing capabilities. Many providers prefer that the child has access to a large screen, so they are able to see the therapist well. This could be a computer or laptop, or even a tablet, but not a smartphone. Additionally, the caregiver must know how to operate the software used for the session. 

About one-third of people in one study experienced some technical difficulty during a virtual ABA session.

  1. Socialization

Socialization with the ABA therapist can be more difficult when done virtually. A survey of parents and clinicians participating in autism telehealth services expressed that observing nonverbal cues was more difficult virtually than in person. Therapists may have to rely on the caregivers who are with the child in person to observe these more subtle cues. Clinicians also had difficulty making eye contact with children. 

When ABA therapy is conducted at home, there are opportunities to observe and improve social interactions between the child and siblings. However, additional steps may be taken to provide opportunities for socialization with children outside of their household.

Five Tips for Success With Teletherapy

Taking steps to prepare for the virtual ABA session will make sure your child gets the most out of it. 

  1. Use a device with a big screen so the child can see the therapist clearly
  2. Discuss the therapy plan with the therapist ahead of time to ensure the necessary materials are available
  3. Prepare your child for the therapy session by explaining the purpose of the session, how long it will last, and introducing the therapist 
  4. Find an optimal location where the child will feel comfortable, and it is possible to set up the computer and cameras
  5. Test your technology beforehand to ensure a smooth session

Conclusion

There are many ways for ABA therapy to be effective. Receiving ABA therapy virtually using telehealth technology can be a great option for some families. 

‍Songbird Therapy is a technology-enabled provider setting a higher standard for children’s autism care. With a deeply passionate team and innovative technology, we’re building a world where every child can access world-class care at home, uniquely tailored to them.

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