The coronavirus pandemic has made it even more difficult for children who are suspected to have autism spectrum disorder to receive an official diagnosis. A delay in diagnosis can affect a child’s ability to receive essential services and interventions.
Although Maryland’s stay-at-home order was recently lifted, in-person services will likely still involve a longer wait time than before the outbreak. The effects of the coronavirus have led some clinicians to wonder if autism spectrum disorder could be diagnosed remotely, using the telemedicine options that became popular during the stay-at-home order.
Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Diagnosed Through Interaction
ASD is usually diagnosed through careful observation and interaction with children. Medical professionals assess children using approved screening tools and guidelines. The idea of using these standards to diagnose children remotely isn’t favored by all clinicians, but many others present growing research to back up their belief that remote diagnosis is an accurate and safe option for children with autism spectrum disorder. (1)
A virtual diagnosis would prevent families from struggling to find services, especially families who live in rural areas with limited options. Instead of an in-person observation, parents could submit videos of their children responding to their names, playing with toys, and completing other tasks for review by professionals.(1)
Research Into Remote Diagnosis for ASD
Many studies have shown that remote diagnosis is a valid way to diagnose autism. For example, a 2013 study found that doctors were able to accurately diagnose ASD just as well remotely as they could in-person. (2) However, studies like these are usually small and need to be repeated over a period of time to be more certain of the accuracy of remote diagnosis. (1)
Some medical facilities are already working on tools for remote autism diagnosis, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (3)
Some remote tools, like the Naturalistic Observation Diagnostic Assessment, were available to families even before the COVID-19 outbreak. For the NODA, parents follow a guide to create a video of their children’s behavior that clinicians can review for a possible autism diagnosis. However, the developer of the assessment has said that it is best for children with clear ASD traits. Children with more subtle clues are sometimes missed by the screening tool.(1)
Is Telemedicine the Way of the Future for Healthcare?
Telemedicine was growing in popularity for healthcare well before the pandemic. E-visits are more convenient for everyone, but they are also of particular benefit to patients who live outside of a major city or town. Instead of experiencing the cost, wait, and difficulty accessing healthcare, patients can quickly see a doctor with just a tap of their smartphones.
The problem, say some physicians, is getting Medicaid to cover televisits for autism spectrum disorder.(1) Medicaid has difficulty viewing telemedicine as a valid way to diagnose a child with ASD. There are professionals that are currently working on guidelines to persuade the insurers that telemedicine is a valid way to diagnose autism. (1)
The Limits of Technology for Autism Spectrum Disorder Diagnosis
While there will always be limits on how much technology can be used to diagnose conditions like autism, many clinicians say that the potential positives for families in need make this an area worthy of further research and consideration. (1, 2, 3) This is especially true for families who find themselves with no other easily accessible options. Technology could also provide a way for families to receive more in-home services, therapies, and interventions.
NeuroBehavioral Associates remains open. We are conducting low-contact, in-office assessments, as well as telehealth services. Call 410-772-7155 or email us to schedule a comprehensive assessment today.
- Marshall, M. (n.d.). Remote diagnosis, support could aid families during lockdown. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/remote-diagnosis-support-could-aid-families-during-lockdown/during-lockdown/?format=pdf
- Remote diagnosis: Spectrum: Autism Research News. (2013, August 20). Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://www.spectrumnews.org/opinion/remote-diagnosis/
- Herbers, K. (n.d.). Telemedicine holds promise for quick diagnosis of autism. Retrieved May 16, 2020, from https://news.vumc.org/2019/03/07/telemedicine-holds-promise-for-quick-diagnosis-of-autism/