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Neurodiversity refers to the concept that brains have developmental differences that result in normal differentiation that lead to different strengths and differences. Companies are trying to create a supportive community for these families, but "access for access sake does more harm than good."

We hosted a panel discussion about neurodiversity moderated by Tom Cassels, the President and General Manager of Rock Health’s Advisory business. One of the incredible leaders Tom spoke with is Marissa Pittard, Co-Founder and CEO of Beaming Health, a company focused on helping autism families find resources, get advice from families and experts, and learn about their child’s diagnosis. The conversation also featured Rebecca Egger, Co-Founder and CEO of Little Otter, a company that provides virtual mental healthcare for children 0-14 and addresses concerns such as anxiety, aggression, tantrums, attention difficulties, sleep, sadness, and relationship conflicts.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the concept that brains have developmental differences that result in normal differentiation that lead to different strengths and differences. In other words, there is no “right” way of thinking, learning, or behaving. The term came about in the 90s to promote acceptance for people with autism spectrum disorder. But, the term now refers to a range of conditions, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, Tourette’s, Down syndrome, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, depression, and others. Some people may not have a formal diagnosis but self-identify as neurodiverse and may have difficulty navigating social relationships, group environments, or sensory processing. 

An essential part of working with neurodiverse children is helping them work toward their own goals, rather than having a standardized set of benchmarks. For digital health companies working with this population, it’s important to work toward long-term relationships with therapists to help keep kids engaged.

How are Companies Helping These Families?

Marissa mentioned, “a parent told us recently, getting a diagnosis right now it’s like being pushed off a cliff and told to find your own parachute.” These companies are trying to create a supportive community for these families to land. Rebecca explains that “the end game for us is let’s support people as early as possible. And so we can have the biggest impact on their lives.”

In supporting these families, Rebecca and Marissa have both built their companies to focus on helping families in unique ways. Marissa explains how Beaming Health is “really focused specifically on autism families at the earliest part of this journey…how can we stand up a care model where families get access to the right care and resources as soon as possible?” Beaming Health emphasizes early intervention for autism families.

Rebecca explains that Little Otter “released a mental health toolkit. [Which] are free resources that provide really personalized feedback for parents…[and] our mental checkup that gives an entire 360 view of the entire family.” Little Otter emphasizes engaging the entire family unit in care to better understand total family mental health.

Choice and Quality in Behavioral Health 

In our conversation, we discussed the importance of quality and choice in behavioral health care. Marissa remarks, “every parent or caregiver is the expert on their own family. Who are we to tell you what might be best for your family, because you as parents know it so much better than us. Our job really is empowering parents and families with the information and resources they need.” She says that the team at Beaming Health they have found that “families have different preferences and communication styles, [and] the relationship between the family and the therapist, may not be quite right.” They have found that giving their families a choice has empowered them to find the best fit for their family needs.

Rebecca agrees that families know their kids best, and they should be able to make decisions that are best for them, but she also emphasizes that quality has to go along with finding a match for each family. She says, “We’ve seen many families who’ve tried up to 10 interventions before coming to us. And so, even though that’s great that there’s access out there, something we talk about is we’re improving access to actual quality care. And we need to add that quality bit because access for access sake does more harm than good in young children.”

Tom echoes a common refrain among neurodivergent families: “If I can get an appointment, I don’t want it.”

Important Partners 

Of course, these companies do not work alone in trying to help these families. Tom asked each panelist who their most important partners are in this work. Rebecca mentioned that “70% of all the mental health meds for young children are prescribed by pediatricians,” so they can be a significant partner in first recognizing that help is needed.  

She also mentions that “teachers who are interacting with the children every single day, they have the most impact on the child’s life… They’re often the first to realize something’s going on.”

Marissa talks about the role that payers play, saying, “there’s just so much power in how the reimbursement flow impacts coverage, the appropriate amount of coverage and thinking about new types of resources and services that are covered, to me is one of the most powerful forces for solving a lot of the problems we’re seeing with our families.” Rebecca echoes the power that payers have and emphasizes, “the most impactful for us would be if insurance companies can really wrap their minds around this whole family care model.” These startups cannot do this work alone and rely on other stakeholders and partners to create a community of care for neurodivergent families. 

These are just a few insights from our conversation with Tom, Marissa, and Rebecca. To hear the entire conversation, check out our video library.