About telehealth for children and teenagers with disability, autism and additional needs
Telehealth is a health service that’s delivered through phone calls and video conferences.
You and your child can use telehealth for:
- one-off appointments – for example, GP appointments
- longer-term health care – for example, a series of sessions with a psychologist
- therapy – for example, sessions with an occupational therapist or speech pathologist
- assessments – for example, disability and autism diagnostic assessment.
You can consult many health professionals using telehealth. This includes GPs, nurses, allied health professionals like speech pathologists or occupational therapists, and specialists like paediatricians, psychologists or psychiatrists.
You can use telehealth on its own or combine it with in-person appointments.
You can get telehealth services through your child’s NDIS plan. You can also choose a mix of in-person services and telehealth services as part of the plan. It’s a good idea to speak to NDIS service providers to see whether they offer telehealth as an option.
Benefits of telehealth therapy for children and teenagers with additional needs
Telehealth has many benefits for children with disability, autism and other additional needs and their families. Many of these benefits are the same as for any family. They include being able to consult professionals who work far away from where you live, or fitting in appointments around family life.
Telehealth also has particular benefits for children with disability, autism and other additional needs and their families, especially when telehealth is used for therapy sessions.
- You can choose therapy services based on your child’s needs even if these services are far away. This might include specialist autism or disability services.
- You and your child can have telehealth therapy sessions at home. This means you can incorporate your daily routines, like toileting, mealtimes and sleep, into the therapy activities during the session.
- Telehealth therapy sessions at home let the professional see how your child plays and interacts in a familiar, comfortable home environment. This might give professionals a more accurate picture of your child’s strengths, skills and needs.
- Telehealth therapy sessions at school, preschool or child care can help professionals see how your child interacts in different environments.
- You might be able to arrange telehealth therapy sessions outside work hours or on weekends. This can be a big help if you need another family member to be at sessions or you’re working on skills at particular times of day, like dinner time.
Both telehealth therapy and in-person therapy can support children’s developmental needs. Telehealth therapy can give professionals new insights as well as new ways of observing and working with your child. And it gives you more flexible ways to get support for your child.
Who can be involved in telehealth therapy for children and teenagers with additional needs
It depends on what best suits your child’s and family’s needs.
Sometimes telehealth therapy sessions will just be between you, your child and a health professional. Sometimes other clinicians, disability professionals, or professionals like teachers might be there.
And sometimes you might choose to involve siblings, members of your extended family, or community elders.
How to set goals for telehealth therapy sessions
Setting goals is essential to making sure that telehealth therapy supports your child’s development.
The professional should work with you and your child to ensure that your child’s and family’s goals drive what happens in telehealth therapy sessions, just like in in-person sessions. For example, a goal might be for your child to hold a spoon and feed themselves, learn how to take turns, or manage their anxiety.
This means sessions will look and feel different for all families.
What to expect from telehealth therapy for children with additional needs
For children aged 0-11 years with disability, autism and other additional needs, you’ll be encouraged to take an active role in your child’s therapy sessions. This means you’ll do activities with your child, rather than your child and the professional working by themselves. This can help you learn how to support your child’s development at home. It also means your child and the professional can build their relationship gradually.
Here are some things that might happen at telehealth therapy sessions for young children with disability, autism and other additional needs:
- You might discuss your child’s and family’s goals and share what’s working well and what’s not working well.
- The professional might work through activities with you and your child. For example, you read a book with your child and the professional suggests questions that you could ask your child while you’re reading together.
- The professional might give you feedback after they’ve watched you doing activities with your child. For example, after you’ve practised reading with your child, the professional might suggest you slow down or use your finger to point to the words.
- You might use prerecorded materials, do interactive games, share screens and send photos during the session. For example, if you’re working with a professional on your child’s handwriting, the professional might share their screen and show you and your child how to form a letter, or you might take a close-up photo of your child’s writing and send it to the professional during the session.
- You might learn how to support your child’s development using everyday routines. For example, you might structure a session around having a meal or getting ready to leave the house.
- You and the professional might talk about how the session went and plan for the next session.
What to expect from telehealth therapy for teenagers with additional needs
For older children and teenagers with disability, autism and other additional needs, your level of involvement in telehealth therapy might depend on your child’s developmental level, preferences and goals.
For example, a teenage child might have a one-to-one session with a psychologist to explore feelings or friendship issues. But you or another family member might be more involved in a role play to practise social skills. Or you might spend some time by yourself with the professional to discuss parenting strategies or a support plan for your child.
Here are some things that might happen at telehealth therapy sessions for older children and teenagers with disability, autism and other additional needs:
- You, your child and the professional might talk about your child’s goals and share what is and isn’t working well.
- You and your child might move around your home. For example, you might take the professional on a tour of your child’s bedroom, introduce them to your child’s siblings or the family pet, or explain your child’s favourite thing.
- You might use prerecorded materials, play interactive games, share screens and send photos during the session. For example, if your child and the professional are working on social skills, they might create a social story about a recent social event together on an interactive whiteboard. They might also watch videos or look at pictures or photos online together.
- Your child might draw or make craft. For example, your child might draw anime characters if they’re working on recognising emotions and facial expressions.
Medicare has funded telehealth for remote and rural patients for many years. More people started using telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Temporary medicare rebates for telehealth during the pandemic will become permanent.