“The key to this is not so much the technology. It's the individual who is using the technology”: Perspectives on Telehealth Delivery for Autistic Adults During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Dorota Ali*, Sarah O'Brien, Laura Hull, Lorcan Kenny, Will Mandy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
70 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a large-scale move to remote delivery of healthcare services. However, little research has directly explored telehealth experiences of autistic adults, a population strongly affected by health inequalities and care access barriers. This study sought telehealth experiences of 11 autistic adults (aged 27–67 years), seven family members/carers (aged 44–75) reporting about autistic people and six service providers. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with all participants, which were then thematically analysed. Two over-arching themes identified were technology aids communication and access – except when it doesn’t, and in/flexibility, with a number of sub-themes. The themes, on one hand, highlighted positives of telehealth delivery, including easing some aspects of communication and decreased stress and, on the other hand, negatives, such as increased rigidity of the healthcare system, amplifying pre-existing barriers. Considering autistic people experience barriers to accessing healthcare, this study highlights such barriers could be, in some instances, addressed via remote delivery, as well as possible limitations of telehealth for some autistic adults. Lay abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic meant that a lot of healthcare services had to move online, such as to video-calls, or to telephone. However, not many studies have looked at how autistic adults feel about this kind of service delivery. It is important to know this, as autistic people may have poorer health than non-autistic people, and they may also struggle to access services more than non-autistic people. This study asked 11 autistic adults (aged 27–67 years), seven family members/carers (aged 44–75) reporting about autistic adults and six service providers about their experiences of accessing or providing a telehealth service. These experiences were collected through interviews, which were then analysed through thematic analysis. Two main themes were: technology aids communication and access – except when it doesn’t, and in/flexibility. The themes pointed out some positive aspects of telehealth delivery, including improved communication and decreased stress. The themes also pointed out negative aspects of telehealth, such as increased rigidity of the healthcare system, amplifying pre-existing barriers. Because autistic people have many barriers to accessing healthcare, this study encourages researchers and healthcare providers to think about how such barriers could be addressed through telehealth, and about the possible limitations of telehealth for some autistic people.

Original languageEnglish
JournalAutism
Early online date6 Jul 2022
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jul 2022

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