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Melody DiPasca gets up early to start working from home before her two children, Juan and Giovanni, wake up. An executive assistant, she suddenly saw her life change when the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools, day care facilities, and businesses to close. Working from home now means Melody has overlapping roles as professional and parent, day care provider and guardian, and teacher and mother.

Before the pandemic closures began, Melody noticed two-year-old Giovanni wasn’t developing like her older son. “By the time Giovanni turned two, he wasn’t speaking or eating table food. My pediatrician recommended we wait and reevaluate Giovanni in a year, but my maternal instincts told me something was different about him,” she recalls.

To get a diagnosis, Melody needed a specialist. Although the pandemic was closing the world around her family, she got an appointment with Anson Koshy, MD, at UT Physicians Pediatric Center for Autism and Related Conditions. While the UT Physicians clinic’s physical doors were closed to ensure the safety of patients and staff, Koshy and his team quickly pivoted to offer evaluations and other services remotely via telehealth.

Telehealth visits through UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, have become vital tools for delivering health care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients can consult with health care providers about ongoing medical needs from the safety of their own homes via videoconferencing, rather than visiting a doctor’s office.

Melody admits she was a little nervous before the appointment. “I was worried about doing telehealth. I really wanted my son to be evaluated in person because I thought it would be better, but the telehealth appointment ended up being great! Dr. Koshy could see the true Giovanni in his element and not the little boy who gets scared at the doctor,” she says.

Koshy has noticed some surprising trends since he began offering telehealth appointments. “What’s fascinating is that in some situations, telehealth actually works better for our patients, especially younger children,” he says. “A lot of kids with autism struggle when they first come to see me because it is a new setting and a new person outside their normal routine. But with telehealth, I get to see them at home where they are most comfortable.” 

For older children, Koshy notes, remote appointments can be a little more challenging. “We want to sit down with older patients in person to conduct tests and get a full sense of their abilities. Right now, we are working hard to ensure older kids get the best services possible under the unusual circumstances of the pandemic.”

After two UT Physicians telehealth appointments, Koshy diagnosed Giovanni with autism spectrum disorder. Despite her initial misgivings, Melody admits remote medicine has been a positive experience for her family. “Dr. Koshy was very thorough and professional. He explained everything and made us feel comfortable.”

Giovanni is involved in speech, occupational, and behavioral therapy multiple times a month. While coordinating these telehealth appointments and making sure he engages with therapists over video calls can be challenging, Melody has already noticed great progress in her son’s behavior.

“Before we started therapy, Giovanni wouldn’t give hugs or kisses,” she says. “Now, he runs up and hugs me all the time. He makes eye contact with us, and he wants to be in all of my videoconference calls with work. It’s a blessing to be able to see his progress every day.”

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