Original Research

The experiences of speech-language therapists providing telerehabilitation services to children with autism spectrum disorder

Saira B. Karrim, Penelope S. Flack, Urisha Naidoo, Stephanie Beagle, Abigail Pontin
South African Journal of Communication Disorders | Vol 69, No 2 | a917 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajcd.v69i2.917 | © 2022 Saira B. Karrim, Penelope S. Flack, Urisha Naidoo, Stephanie Beagle, Abigail Pontin | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 31 January 2022 | Published: 31 August 2022

About the author(s)

Saira B. Karrim, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Penelope S. Flack, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Urisha Naidoo, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Stephanie Beagle, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Abigail Pontin, Discipline of Speech-Language Pathology, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


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Abstract

Background: There has been an increased emergence of the use of telerehabilitation by speech-language therapists (SLTs) in South Africa since the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Objectives: To explore the criteria that SLTs use when recommending telerehabilitation for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the technical skills required, strategies used by SLTs, the restrictions encountered when conducting telerehabilitation and the views of SLTs on telerehabilitation in comparison to face-to-face therapy for children with ASD.

Method: A descriptive, phenomenological, qualitative study design was utilised. Purposive and snowball sampling techniques were employed. Six SLTs from the private sector, who had experience providing telerehabilitation to children with ASD, were recruited from three provinces in South Africa. Data were gathered via semistructured online interviews and analysed using thematic analysis.

Results: Two out of five themes that emerged from this study are presented in this paper, i.e. approaches to telerehabilitation and the benefits of telerehabilitation. Results revealed that telerehabilitation was used to provide assessment and therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns as an alternative method of service delivery. Assessment and treatment strategies included synchronous and asynchronous methods, family collaboration, social stories, frequent breaks and interactive sessions. Telerehabilitation reduced the client’s and SLT’s travel costs and increased caregiver and clinician satisfaction. Client progress and increased awareness of SLT were viewed as further benefits.

Conclusion: Telerehabilitation was found to be beneficial to most children with ASD, and in most cases, the benefits far outweighed the challenges encountered. Clinical implications included the need for caregiver support in facilitating effective carryover, an increase in SLTs’ knowledge and the opportunity to provide services to a broader geographical range. Limitations of the study are included.


Keywords

autism spectrum disorder; experiences; telerehabilitation; speech language therapist; South Africa

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