A new Utah-based program is attempting to bring more support to rural children with autism by providing online therapy courses for families.
The program, which is called ReachASD, is a startup launching this week to teach parents how to therapeutically play with their children. The goal is to improve motor skills and social skills for children with autism through play, and also introduce families to therapeutic toys that can teach children specific skills. Ultimately, the program hopes to expand to offer therapy to children with autism by using video chat.
Rural districts often struggle to attract and retain special education teachers and therapists, which means students with disabilities may lack critical services or the few therapists available may have large case loads. A 2012 survey of rural schools found that more than 50 percent of administrators had "moderate to extreme" challenges in filling vacant special education teaching positions. More than 40 percent of rural special education teachers who were surveyed said they were planning to leave their schools within five years, partly due to factors unique to rural schools, like geographic isolation.
Across the country, rural districts and families are turning to online sources to help special education students. In California, the rural Lone Pine Unified School District has started using online speech therapy in the absence of qualified speech therapists. In the Barstow Unified School District in California, the district is using a telepractice system, which connects students with therapists via web cameras and microphones, to provide services to students with disabilities in rural areas.