Autism services are very limited in rural and remote areas of Australia. Families of children on the autism spectrum in these locations have reported experiencing long waiting lists, extensive travel times and lack of choice of specialist disability services. A key reason for this is that autism service providers find it difficult to recruit and retain suitable professionals to work in these locations.
However, technology delivered intervention, also known as e-health, telehealth or teletherapy has been used successfully in the Australian disability sector to both train and support therapists and deliver services in a range of other areas such as speech pathology, adult autism assessment, occupational therapy, and podiatry, and all studies have reported favourable outcomes, providing a timely, low-cost means of delivering services where face-to-face specialist disability support is unavailable or inaccessible.
Could teletherapy be an effective way to provide support and professional development for therapists in rural and remote locations, and to deliver autism therapy services to children on the autism spectrum and their families who are living in these locations?
Aspect conducted the Building Connections project with two stages of research to develop, trial and evaluate:
- An online platform to deliver interactive group webinars and individualised support sessions to a range of disability workers working with children on the autism spectrum in rural and remote communities across New South Wales; designed to build capacity in service providers in rural and remote areas to work with children on the autism spectrum;
- A collaborative autism-specific service using video conferencing to deliver autism services to clients in rural and remote communities
What we learnt
The evaluation of the online platform to support disability workers was positive, indicating that it would be feasible to use an interactive, technology-based platform to deliver training and support for disability workers in regional, rural and remote communities across Australia, and that such a platform could provide significant benefits for these workers that would increase their retention in their communities.
The results from the pilot of a collaborative autism-specific service using video conferencing for clients in rural and remote communities were also positive, with 87% of goals set by the clients for the therapy being either reached or exceeded.
Making a difference
Following the positive results from this research, Aspect Therapy began offering teletherapy services in July 2018, and these services have now reached clients and service providers in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, with 18 Aspect staff specially trained to provide this service, including speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologist, teachers and social workers.
These new Aspect teletherapy services are removing the burden and cost of travel for families and local support teams so that they can easily access autism-specific support from the comfort of their homes, schools and offices in areas where this much-needed support is otherwise limited and at times inaccessible.
This new mode of service delivery has the potential to be replicated across many other Aspect services for people on the autism spectrum and their families, and work has already started on this for Aspect’s Education services.
Genevieve Johnsson, Senior Therapy Support, Aspect Therapy
This project has been supported by funding from the NSW Department of Family and Community Services and the Australian Government’s NDIS Innovative Workforce Funding.