Short report on research trends during the COVID-19 pandemic and use of telehealth interventions and remote brain research in children with autism spectrum disorder


Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the delivery of face-to-face (F2F) therapeutic interventions and neuroimaging assessments for children with autism spectrum disorder has been disrupted. To resume interventions and assessments, many services are now using telehealth-based online platforms. Using the Zoom conferencing platform, our research group has been providing creative play-based interventions to school-age children with autism spectrum disorder. The feedback on this telehealth intervention experience has been generally positive (mean satisfaction score: 4.4 on a 5-point Likert-type scoring range) and our preliminary data from six children with autism spectrum disorder suggest training-related improvements in gross motor, balance, and imitation skills. Despite the positive results, it remains to be explored if the effects of telehealth interventions are similar to those of F2F interventions. Neuroimaging techniques could provide objective measures of intervention effects. However, this will require researchers to resume neuroimaging research while adopting safe public health protocols to control the risk of COVID-19 transmission. In this short report, we summarize existing safety protocols for F2F neuroimaging research, our own experiences of safely conducting alternative, on-site and off-site neuroimaging data collection, as well as the potential opportunities of using online data sharing and low-cost, remote neuroimaging/electrophysiological techniques to continue brain research during the pandemic.