Telehealth project to aid autism sufferers

With $90 billion spent on people with autism each year and with that number projected to jump to $200 to $400 billion in the next decade, an East Coast-based speech language pathologist knew that there had to be a less cost-prohibitive way to help children and families affected by the condition.

Cynthia Howroyd, who works directly with families facing autism, founded the Virtual Expert Clinics (VEC) after she became unable to visit her clients due to injuries she sustained in a car accident several years ago. VEC this week is launching a Web-based program called AutismPro two years after Howroyd and a team of developers, clinicians and autism experts began the project.

“I was frustrated to try to find means to reducing cost and finding day to day guidance for my families,” said Howroyd, who spoke to from the World Autism Conference taking place this week in South Africa. “It seemed to me a reasonable idea to use the latest technology to create a tool for people so they can access immediate guidance through the Internet.”

Annual costs for private services may range from $40,000 to $100,000 per year and may last up to three years depending on the child’s age when the service has begun. Multiply that number by two for Carrie Proudfoot, a mother of twin five-year-old daughters with autism. Proudfoot was one of the beta testers of the program and started using it this summer.

“My girls have made a lot of progress in the time we have spent privately,” said Proudfoot, who lives in Guelph, Ont. “With a tool like this we could have still made the progress if it was out earlier but we wouldn’t be as far in debt as we are right now.”

Subscribers like Proudfoot receive a login and password for a specific URL where they can set up a program for their child. The cost for the service is $100 a month plus a $600 set up fee. AutismPro will be available for half that cost during its first year, said Howroyd.

“We’ve taken an extraordinary effort to assimilate a wide range of methods into this one tool,” said Howroyd, who helped design the system. “It’s the first time where a conceptual framework has been able to integrate techniques in the field of special education.”

Proudfoot’s daughters, Kaylyn and Amber were diagnosed with the condition when they were three years old.

The Autism Canada Foundation defines the Autistic Spectrum Disorder as a, “complex biomedical condition that can affect the normal function of the gastrointestinal, immune, hepatic, endocrine and nervous systems.” Symptoms include communication problems, difficulty with social interactions, prone to repeat specific patterns of behaviour and a restricted repertoire of activity and interests. Because these symptoms can vary with each individual case, treatment options are different for everyone.

Proudfoot’s daughters were placed on a waiting list for provincial government assistance two years ago but according to her calculations, she won’t receive the money she needs to help pay for private therapy for some time.

“The number of children they are turning over in our area and the number of therapists if you do the math it’ll be 15 years before either of my children see a therapist,” she said.

To make matters worse, Kaylyn and Amber are number 10 and 11 on the list.

“Even if they do come up, I have to pick between my children,” she added.


Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+