At-Home Diagnostic Testing
4 Ways Telehealth Can Support Neurodivergent Patients
Neurodivergent people experience differences in brain function, learning styles, communication styles, sensory processing, and behavior when compared to their neurotypical peers. “Neurodivergent” doesn’t refer to a specific medical condition or diagnosis, but is often used to describe individuals with autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, tourette syndrome, and other conditions.
In healthcare, some neurodivergent patients may have difficulties with in-person sessions due to factors such as medical trauma, sensory issues, or lack of a specialized provider nearby. Telehealth can support neurodivergent patients in a multitude of ways, including remote management or diagnosis of chronic conditions, mental health maintenance, and specialty care in remote areas.
1. Telehealth can improve mental and behavioral health outcomes for neurodivergent children
For some neurodivergent patients, telehealth can be a tool to help regulate mental health and behavioral struggles. In one study that measured the effectiveness of telehealth service delivery models to improve mental health for children with ADHD and ODD diagnoses, researchers found that caregivers and teachers reported improvement in symptoms and behaviors, role performance, and functional impairment.
In another study, researchers measured the effectiveness of in-home therapy, clinic-based telehealth, and home-based telehealth on children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. Researchers used telehealth to provide parents with applied behavior analysis training. While all three care models showed a reduction in behavior problems associated with autism spectrum disorders, telehealth cost less than in-home therapy. Researchers theorized that telehealth could therefore provide support to “any family with access to the internet.”
2. Remote care can be used to manage chronic illnesses or comorbidities in neurodivergent patients
Some neurodivergent patients have chronic illness diagnoses or comorbidities. For example, a patient with autism spectrum disorder might also suffer from sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, and gastrointestinal issues. Adults with ADHD might also have substance use disorders or personality disorders. These patients can utilize telehealth to manage symptoms synchronously or asynchronously with a physician or healthcare worker. This could take the form of messaging updates through a secure portal, medication maintenance through at-home diagnostic testing, or video conferencing. In practice, neurodivergent patients would be able to attend fewer in-person appointments and maintain high levels of care.
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3. Telehealth grants neurodivergent patients more control over the healthcare experience
Many types of neurodivergent individuals report sensory issues that make it difficult for them to function in certain settings. People with autism spectrum disorder may not tolerate sudden or loud sounds due to increased sensory acuity, and can experience distress in a busy medical setting. Parents of autistic children sometimes ask for morning appointments or even practice visits at the doctor’s offices or hospital to give them time to acclimate to their surroundings. Video conferencing or phone calls with a physician allows them to moderate sound level or utilize the mute function.
Those with ADHD sometimes have trouble with time estimation, which can result in chronic lateness or missed meetings and appointments. By taking appointments at home, these patients can alleviate the stress of time blindness with in-person appointment setting. Patients with bipolar or other psychiatric disorders that require medication management can do so through telepsychiatry.
Telehealth services, which allow patients to take calls and conduct testing at home, may grant these neurodivergent individuals (and in some cases, their caretakers) greater control over the healthcare experience.
4. Neurodivergent people in rural areas can access specialized care
One of the original uses for telehealth was to provide care for rural areas. Today, the CDC continues to recommend telehealth for the delivery of healthcare to rural residents. Telehealth is particularly useful for delivering specialized care to residents outside major metropolitan areas, such as ophthalmology and psychiatry.
Telehealth can help neurodivergent patients in rural areas access specialized care and remote diagnoses. Researchers found that telehealth methods to diagnose autism spectrum disorder were between 80 to 90 percent accurate when compared to in-person. Internet access can also provide neurodivergent patients with other types of support such as ASL training for non-verbal people.
There are many ways in which telehealth can provide a high level of care for people who may not want to participate in in-person healthcare, such as the use of tele-therapy for children with ADHD or remote medication maintenance for bipolar individuals. Neurodivergent patients with autism spectrum disorder, tourette syndrome or other conditions find support through telehealth services instead of or in conjunction with in-person healthcare.
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