The Future of Therapy for Cognitive Disorders- ’20 Conference

Many therapists who work with people with cognitive disorders have been forced to try teletherapy or discontinue services at some point in 2020. 

The expectations of patients have changed after many were forced to try telehealth solutions for everything from routine doctor visits, to occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, or mental health treatment. 

“With the COVID-19 pandemic having already set the stage for a massive increase in telehealth consults, the research firm sees an even bigger future – as demand for one-stop virtual visits and remote patient monitoring grows as much as seven-fold.”-Healtchare IT News

In a recent survey two-thirds of respondents said that their willingness to try telehealth had increased due to the pandemic. One-quarter of them had not considered this as an option for services before the pandemic.

With all of this change happening, many therapists across the fields of occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and psychology are looking to find best practices and figure out how to integrate teletherapy into their practice in the most effective way. 

Each profession faces its own challenges with incorporating teletherapy, whether it be treating someone for cognitive disorders or other concerns. The International Symposium on Cognitive Research and Development is bringing together experts in those fields to help practitioners overcome challenges, as well as some meet the needs of people with cognitive disorders such as autism.

The goal is to empower therapists of all types to be able to better work  in the “new normal” regardless of what new challenges come their way in these ever-changing times. The combination of opportunity to hear from experts and interact with colleagues from across the country for two months will give plenty of opportunity to establish best practices, learn from each other, and connect with fellow colleagues with similar challenges across the country.

Past ISCRD highlights from in-person conferences

Telehealth is Gaining Acceptance Professionally Across Therapy Professions

Speech Language Pathology

The American Speech-Language Association is recognizing that things are changing making telepractice more viable for SLPs:

“With relaxed regulations and increased reimbursement options during the COVID-19 pandemic, SLPs in health care settings may have remote service delivery options for the first time.”

Occupational Therapy

Leaders in the OT field are recommending that the best course of action for OTs is to continue learning as much as possible about telehealth and how they can start incorporating this method into their practice to ensure they stay relevant and competitive. 


According to Jared Skllings, PHD, ABPP, the APA Chief of Professional Practice:

“Many medical systems are moving in the direction of virtual care, too. For psychologists, this trend presents exciting opportunities for creative, thoughtful revision of how we practice. The clearest example of this is the rise of telepsychology, which some of us are already practicing. When appropriate security and regulatory measures are enforced, video conferencing technology cuts across distances and through barriers to care, allowing psychologists to evaluate and treat patients who may not have their needs met otherwise.”

New Challenges Lead Record Numbers of Therapists to Teletherapy

According to the CDC:

“Healthcare systems have had to adjust the way they triage, evaluate, and care for patients using methods that do not rely on in-person services. Telehealth services help provide necessary care to patients while minimizing the transmission risk… However, recent policy changes during the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced barriers to telehealth access and have promoted the use of telehealth as a way to deliver acute, chronic, primary and specialty care.6 Many professional medical societies endorse telehealth services and provide guidance for medical practice in this evolving landscape.7,8,9 Telehealth can also improve patient health outcomes.” 10

Patients Are Looking for Teletherapy Services- and Getting Them

Telehealth has increased at an astronomical rate since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: 

“According to the tracker, telehealth claim lines increased 4,347% nationally, from 0.17% of medical claim lines in March 2019 to 7.52% in March 2020. (A claim line is an individual service or procedure listed on an insurance claim.)”- US News & World Report

It is made clear this was due to the COVID-19 outbreak, as telehealth grew by 15,503% in the northeast, which was originally hit the hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The market for telehealth has grown very quickly, and many see this as a long term change that was forced upon many but that is here to stay: 

“This year, the U.S. telehealth market is expected to reach around $10 billion by 2020 with an 80 percent year-over-year growth due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an Arizton report.”- Becker’s Hospital Review

The article continues:

“Patients are more likely to turn to telehealth after the pandemic, Managing Partner of Wardell Advisors, told the WSJ. This is a major behavior shift and accelerates telehealth adoption. The increased telemedicine familiarity could drive longer-term growth and encourage future investment.”

Autism and Other Cognitive Disorders in the Times of COVID-19

This is an often repeated phrase in many news outlets these days:

“The coronavirus pandemic can be especially difficult for children and adults with autism and their families, experts say.”-  WebMD

People with autism are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications due to commonly having immune disorders and other comorbidities (according to the CDC), so it is especially important to take precautions.

“For some people on the spectrum, life in lockdown is aggravating anxiety and other autism traits. Women and children with autism, and those living in group homes, seem particularly hard hit by the pandemic, although the experiences of autistic people have been almost as varied as the condition itself.” – Spectrum News

The pandemic is getting in the way of more than just medical care, as it has interrupted all sorts of therapy approaches.

“Many typical interventions or medical appointments may not be available in the same format because of stay-at-home orders.  However, a number of providers, including medical professionals, speech pathologists and behavior therapists have transitioned to providing e-services or video visits…Some therapists have also shifted their approach to center on a parent training model to provide parents with tools to manage interventions at home.” –University of Michigan health blog

Will Therapy Ever Return to Pre-COVID-19 Norms?

The amount of changes that have taken place across different fields of therapy in 2020 has been unprecedented, and many of these changes are likely here to stay.

While there are possibilities for a combination of public health measures and a vaccine to help enable life to return back to relatively ‘normal’, there is also potential that the coronavirus never goes away and we have to adjust to a new normal. 

This has been echoed by other leading health experts, such as World Health Organization emergencies director Dr. Mike Ryan, who warned as early as May that the “virus may become just another endemic virus in our communities, and this virus may never go away.”

What Does this Mean for Therapy and People with Autism?

Therapists of all types will have to adjust in order to maintain effectiveness with all of their patients, not just those with autism and cognitive disorders. Consistency is one of the most important parts to any therapy regimen, and just maintaining consistency is harder than ever before.

In many cases a practitioner might need to incorporate teletherapy in order to enable seeing their patients as often as they would have previously, which can bring it’s own challenges. This could mean it is more important to instruct a parent or other facilitator on how to treat a patient in order to continue effective therapy remotely. In other cases they may need to maintain more distance between them and their patients and minimize or eliminate any type of contact. 

Here’s some samples of what some international and national organizations are talking about with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Occupational Therapy and the Pandemic

“As a profession we recognise the consequences and changes that are occurring in how people access and undertake their occupations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include, but are not limited to: accessing resources, activities of daily living, communication, mobility, social isolation, displacement, mental health and wellbeing. Occupational therapists understand the vital need to access and use infection control measures combined with the need to sustain good psychological, mental health and stamina in order to stay safe and healthy.”- World Federation of Occupational Therapists

Psychology and the Pandemic

From the International Association of Applied Psychology:

“In response to the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the IAAP executive committee and member psychologists have compiled internet resources on the pandemic that provide practical help to people and information for professional psychologists. The resources are organized by user group, such as Resources for the Public and Resources for Clinicians.”

Speech Language Pathology and the Pandemic

“S-LPs are encouraged to raise the profession’s concerns about the risks associated with speech-language pathology procedures with their employers, while making necessary modifications to their practice as part of a risk management approach to patient care in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.” – Speech Language Audiology of Canada

 The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has put together a number of resources for members:

Staying Up to Date is More Important Now than Ever

Now is the time to figure out how to offer services effectively across a variety of different circumstances so you can be as effective as possible and also help patients feel confident in virtual services.

Attend ISCRD to learn best practices from experts in the field and to find out what your colleagues are doing that has helped them navigate this “new normal”.

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