Are Autism Services Essential during COVID-19 Pandemic?

March 26, 2020

With only select business allowed to operate under the Governor’s Executive Order 109, many are wondering, “Is autism treatment an essential business that can remain operating?”  Our Executive Director, Suzanne Buchanan, Psy.D., BCBA-D, along with attorney Jodi Bouer, Esq. of Bouer Law, address that question and its nuances. 

Is autism treatment an essential business that can remain operating under Executive Order 109?

Yes, autism treatment is an essential business as it appears to be considered a healthcare service. Healthcare services are not closed under Executive Order 109. Under this order, all New Jersey citizens are ordered to stay in place, work at home where possible, and minimize exposure to others, including using telehealth, while not forgoing necessary healthcare services.

If families and providers are considering continuing home-based services during this pandemic, Autism New Jersey recommends that whether the scope of services you are receiving or providing are “essential” be determined based on each child’s and family’s needs and a range of other factors. These factors include but are not limited to 1) safety issues associated with COVID-19 and 2) the ability to deliver efficacious treatment that will not cause harm.

First, is everyone in the family safe from harm?

One of the most important factors in making this determination is the acute nature of the individual’s challenging behavior, if any, and the comparison of the risk of COVID-19-related harm. Each family and provider will have to assess these factors in light of any pain and injury caused by aggression, self-injury, and other challenges. This decision can be informed by creating a list of the anticipated consequences of continuing and discontinuing treatment.

  • Determine medical necessity in light of the risks based on frequent and individualized cost/benefit analyses

In certain situations, continuing home-based treatment may be warranted. We encourage families and providers to call our Helpline (800.4.AUTISM) so we can help you brainstorm this issue.

Second, how can risk be decreased?

  • Daily phone calls prior to the start of service and daily written confirmation by families and staff related to possible exposure (e.g., contact with people suspected of COVID-19 diagnosis exposure, family members/close contacts experiencing symptoms, time outside of the home in contact with others) of all involved and of those with whom they live
  • Establishing and following protocols and procedures, such as:
    • When to discontinue a session and/or terminate home-based services because: (a) someone has actually or potentially been exposed to COVID-19; (b) suffers from indicia of COVID-19 but have not been diagnosed; (c) has been diagnosed; or  d) where someone has been tested for COVID-19 the absolute minimum.
    • The number of providers rendering home-based services
    • Use of protective gear, proper hygiene, hand washing, daily temperature checks before every session, cleaning protocols, and equipment

Third, is telehealth an option?

During this pandemic, telehealth may be a viable option. Read more here.

Making Decisions One Day at a Time

The decision to continue home-based services should be based upon a full conversation between the family and the provider. Families and service providers should do so with an awareness that decisions may change on a day-to-day basis. Every person — families and professional alike — reserves the right to discontinue home-based services at any time and make decisions based on evolving information and risk analysis.

Experience Our Power of Connection

Autism New Jersey is following recommendations from the CDC and state Department of Health, and is implementing telework and remote meetings for its employees to help reduce the community spread of the coronavirus.

During this time, our 800.4.AUTISM Helpline will remain open. Please leave a message with specific dates and times you are available for a call-back, or email  You can also message us via our website, and we’ll aim to reply promptly.

We remain focused on our mission to be a resource for the autism community. With a fluid situation and great uncertainty, we’ll share relevant, accurate information as it becomes available. We encourage you to regularly visit our central hub of coronavirus resources for the autism community.