FYI, the Institute on Community Integration Staff Newsletter

December 2015

Telehealth at MN LEND: Delivering Communication and Behavioral Support

This fall, the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities Program (MN LEND) of the Institute on Community Integration began participating in an innovative project to implement telehealth (e.g., video conferencing) to improve access to Functional Behavior Assessment and Functional Communication Training for families in Minnesota and western Wisconsin needing in-home support. The MN LEND Telehealth Training Project, a collaboration with Mayo Clinic in Rochester and the University’s Special Education Program in the Department of Educational Psychology, is designed to improve access to high quality assessment and intervention related to early communication needs for children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families, including those outside the Twin Cities. The MN LEND joined in this ongoing work of Jennifer McComas and Frank Symons, faculty in the Department of Educational Psychology, LEND Fellow Jessica Simacek, and Dr. Breanne Byiers, Research Associate in the Special Education Program. The MN LEND brings a train-the-trainer model to the partnership that will enable service providers to deliver in-home support services to families; the model trains agency staff to supplement their services with telehealth parent coaching and follow-up.

Access to expertise may be a barrier to the provision of high quality intervention for children with severe neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families who reside outside of metropolitan areas. Previous research has demonstrated telehealth as an effective service delivery method to remotely coach parents in the delivery of Functional Analysis and Functional Communication Training intervention to improve challenging behavior for children with autism. “Advances in the delivery and supplementation of services through telehealth could provide services much earlier, and may help family stakeholders become more active and proficient in addressing their children’s needs in communication and problem behavior,” says MN LEND director Joe Reichle.

Faculty and students associated with this project have researched the effectiveness of behavioral assessment and intervention delivered with coaching via telehealth to parents or care providers of children who require early assessment and intervention in areas addressing problem behaviors and improving communication skills. The MN LEND’s role in this project – training agency staff – builds on the Special Education Program’s work. In addition, the project has collaborated with a physician at Mayo Clinic to develop a plan for clinic referrals of families to the telehealth project. Mayo and the project staff are currently developing a project that would provide technical support in acquainting Mayo staff with Functional Behavior Analyses that could be implemented to better inform intervention objectives.

The telehealth project also offers an opportunity for University of Minnesota graduate students who are LEND Fellows to participate in a telehealth rotation, gaining direct experience (under the supervision of experts) in delivering high quality intervention while accumulating an evidence base regarding the efficacy of the procedure. Project coordinator Jessica Simacek observes, “As a post-doc LEND Fellow, I research telehealth as a service delivery mechanism; therefore, the value to me and other participating Fellows lies in the unique research opportunity that telehealth affords us.”

The MN LEND is an interdisciplinary leadership training program spanning 12 disciplines across the University of Minnesota, and is funded by the Maternal Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

FFI about the MN LEND’s telehealth project, contact Jessica at