Advanced Options for Treating Autism

mother and son in a telehealth visit

Telehealth services and intensive treatments offer new help

Stay-at-home orders during the pandemic have posed particular challenges for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Deprived of face-to-face services, they have been lacking the stimulation and training they need, and have spent much less time interacting with others than usual.

“It’s a situation where problem behavior is more likely to occur,” says Wayne Fisher, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Director of the Rutgers Center for Autism Research, Education and Service (RUCARES). “We wanted to provide support for kids and families to help them manage the situation more effectively.”

The result was the development of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Short-Term Telehealth Services provided by Children’s Specialized Hospital (CSH). The services begin with a quick-start evaluation. For children with severe problems whose behavior may be dangerous to themselves, a behavior stabilization and safety program is developed in two 90-minute appointments. For children with mild to moderate ASD, a quick-start behavior management program and behavior management group are available over the course of eight appointments via a simple-to-access, private telehealth platform.

Though telehealth services for people with autism have been available in other states, it was not an option in New Jersey until an executive order as part of the COVID-19 response allowed it. Fisher hopes the trend continues. “This method has many benefits. It really helps families, many of whom travel quite a distance for in-person specialized care, in terms of convenience,” he says.“For specialists, there’s therapeutic value in seeing the child and family at home, under naturalistic conditions.”

Expanded services

The ABA short-term telehealth program is part of an expansion of autism services that CSH now offers through a collaboration with RUCARES. This summer will see the opening of CSH RUCARES, the first center of its kind in New Jersey dedicated to innovative research, education and service to support children and adults with ASD.

CSH RUCARES will accept patients for a new Severe Behavior Disorders Program, which will provide specialized services to children and adolescents with autism and other developmental disabilities who display dangerous behavior such as self-injury and aggression. Patients will undergo intensive outpatient treatment from a team of board-certified behavior analysts and registered behavior technicians. “Our program has a data-based approach based on empirical research, and all of our staff and faculty are highly trained,” explains Fisher, who is the Director of CSH RUCARES.

CSH is also expanding its Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program with a new program for children who have not progressed through traditional feeding programs. “It’s a data-based, intensive, goal-driven day program. We see patients for about eight weeks, then transition to outpatient follow-up services once or twice a week,” says Cathleen Piazza, Director of the Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program at CSH and a professor in the Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. “We also find telehealth services very valuable because we can work with and see the patient where he or she eats, in real time.”

To learn more about Children’s Specialized Hospital, call 888.244.5373 or visit www.childrens-specialized.org