Background: Autism affects as many as 1 in 88 children. Best practices recommend early identification and intervention for optimal outcomes. Currently, a gap exists between time of first concern and diagnosis, particularly for families living in rural areas. Telemedicine as a tool for assessment and diagnosis of autism is one way to address this disparity. Emerging evidence suggests telemedicine as a viable option for assessing children with a variety of special needs.
Materials and methods: This study expands upon the current literature by investigating clinicians' ability to assess autism via telemedicine. Using interactive videoconferencing, we simulated autism assessment procedures with families with an existing diagnosis (autism or developmental disability) using current gold-standard assessment tools. We compared diagnostic accuracy, item-by-item reliability on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS)-Module 1, and the Autism Diagnostic Interview-Revised (ADI-R) as well as parent satisfaction in an in-person and interactive videoconferencing condition. Ten children (3-5 years old) with developmental delays and 11 children matched on chronological age with a diagnosis of autism were assigned to be assessed and interviewed either in-person or over videoconferencing. Clinicians observed both in-person and through videoconferencing regardless of patient assignment.
Results: Results indicated no significant difference in reliability of diagnostic accuracy, ADOS observations, ratings for ADI-R parent report of symptoms, and parent satisfaction between conditions. Results indicate adequate clinician agreement and parent satisfaction regardless of observational condition.
Conclusions: Future research should include a larger sample size and assess children without an existing diagnosis.