Strengths and Weaknesses of Digital Health Technologies

September 06, 2021

Hi-Tech Augmentation Better Suited for Autism Treatment Providers vs. Individuals

The past decade has given rise to many new digital health technologies which have been developed to support people with autism. Software for intervention delivery, augmentative and alternative devices and robots to improve social interaction are just some of the technologies that are now readily available. A recent editorial in the journal Autism scrutinizes some of these technologies. The article’s authors point out that enthusiasm for some of these technologies, at times, outweighs the evidence. They mention a study that assessed computer programs for teaching social and emotional skills to kids with autism that were found to have little or no positive effects. The authors also detail research that demonstrated that while virtual reality platforms or robots may be able to teach social and adaptive skills to children with autism, those skills don’t generalize into natural settings. However, their scrutiny does not mean all digital health technology is faulty. In fact, the authors are very supportive of technologies that were designed to support treatment providers. These include telehealth and progress monitoring platforms. The authors found telehealth to be particularly important since it can increase access to treatment and reduce costs, which is especially critical in rural and underserved communities. In the end, the authors believe that digital health technologies offer exciting new ways for improving the delivery, monitoring, and coordination of autism programs. They end their editorial with a call for rigorous testing of new technologies before using them in a therapy setting. Additionally, the authors would like to see best practice guidelines developed for implementation as well as methods to promote equitable access to digital health technologies that augment rather than replace autism treatment providers. 

Original Editorial

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