MNLEND Fellows Use Telehealth to Serve Rural Children with Developmental Disabilities

Fri Apr 13 2018
Jessica Simacek, pictured at keyboard, assisting clients onscreen.

It can be difficult for rural children with developmental disabilities and their families to access the services they need because specialized providers are often based in larger cities. To overcome this geographic barrier, Jessica Simacek (pictured at keyboard, assisting clients onscreen), a former Fellow at ICI's Minnesota Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (MNLEND) Program, and Adele Dimian, a MNLEND post-doctoral Fellow, use telehealth to serve their clients in greater Minnesota. Telehealth refers to using electronic information and telecommunications technology to support long-distance clinical healthcare, health management, and education via devices like smart phones and home computers. Dimian describes telehealth as "a way to support and connect families with resources who may not otherwise receive them, or who may spend long periods of time on 'waitlists' prior to accessing services." Reducing waitlists can be critical for young children with autism, for example, because intervention is most effective while the infant brain is still developing.


One project at ICI trains MNLEND Fellows to use telehealth to provide assessment and intervention. Using a train-the-trainer model, the project delivers in-home support services to families by coaching parents to assess and intervene to improve challenging behavior and social-communication skills. A second telehealth-related project at ICI is TelePBS. Simacek uses telehealth as a component of the larger Positive Behavioral Supports project to connect with and train community-based service providers on positive behavior support practices to assist people with developmental disabilities. "MNLEND Fellows bring a range of telehealth options to improve service access for families in underserved and rural communities," she says.

The Fellows' telehealth practices are grounded in research, and Simacek and Dimian, along with their MNLEND faculty mentor Joe Reichle and former MNLEND Fellow Marianne Elmquist, published the article, "Teaching Communicative Responses with a Speech Generating Device via Telehealth Coaching," in the academic journal Advances in Neurodevelopmental Disorders last month.