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Coronavirus (COVID-19) Health and Safety Guide

ASERT has put together some resources for those with autism and those who care for people with autism relating to the current Coronavirus outbreak.

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The Virtual World: Telehealth

The virtual world, better or worse?

I’ve been a therapist for my entire career, and have worked in a lot of different settings. I currently work in an outpatient clinic, which means people travel to our office to see me when it’s time for their appointment. Though I’ve talked with people on the phone or by video chat for special circumstances, I never really had to use it for therapy until Covid-19 hit our country. For several months, every single one of my therapy sessions had to be done either by video chat or phone. There wasn’t really a choice to bring people into the office for an in-person visit.

As a therapist, there were a lot of changes that I had to make. I had to rearrange my home and make sure I could help keep my sessions private. I also had to change the way I approach sessions. I usually keep journals, stress balls, and other tools in my office. I give these tools to
clients to help them practice relaxation skills between our sessions. When people are talking to me from their home, we have to add in steps to find out what they already have available to them. I have also had to rely a lot more on talking than I did before the pandemic. Some of my
clients have been okay with this adjustment, but others have found it harder.

Another challenge to providing therapy virtually is that the technology hasn’t always worked the way it’s supposed to work. A lot of clients have had trouble using the telehealth application our company uses. We are sometimes able to use Zoom as a back-up program since a lot of
people are more familiar with it and can use it easier. However, sometimes people have poor internet connections, don’t have a good computer to use, or are really anxious about being on camera.

Despite its many challenges, telehealth hasn’t been all bad. For one thing, it helps keep people safe by slowing down the spread of Covid-19. Since many of my clients (or their family members) have other health concerns, it’s nice to give them an option to complete their sessions remotely. Another substantial benefit has been the ability to limit the time spent in the car for many clients. Living in central Pennsylvania means that clients often drive to get to their appointments. For some clients, they are driving an hour each way. During the school year, parents and teachers have often struggled to choose between the benefits of therapy against the consequences of constantly missing hours of school. Having telehealth as an option means that students will miss less time in class, and will have to spend less time traveling to and from their appointments.

Overall, the transition to a more virtual world has had its pros and cons. It hasn’t been my favorite transition, but it’s nice to know that there are benefits. As companies research and eventually produce a vaccine, my hope is that clients will be able to choose the option that meets their needs the best. In the meantime, I’m trying to learn new and better ways of helping my clients in a virtual world.