by Erin Sweeten
Arizona has its issues with education, but one thing that is not lacking is choice. When your children reach school-age, the options can be dizzying: your zoned public school, a different public school, a charter school, a private school, homeschooling, and more. Start looking in the December before the year your children will start kindergarten. School open houses and lotteries typically take place in January and February. I’ll walk you through some of the factors to consider.
The first place to look is your neighborhood public school. The benefits are many: you will not need to drive your children to and from school (though you can if you want to); you and your children will make friends in the neighborhood; it will be easy to get to and from school events. Don’t undervalue your own time or your kids’ time. The more time your children spend in a car, the less safe they are and the less time they have to just be kids.
If your local school is not known as “good,” look at it anyway. Greatschools ratings and Department of Ed grades can’t tell you much about the quality of the teaching or environment. Visit the school and talk to everyone you can. Things to ask:
1. What is the teacher turnover rate? How many teachers are long-term subs or have emergency credentials? Most schools have turnover due to the low pay and tough working conditions. It’s a good sign if there is at least one veteran teacher in most grades and few open positions.
2. How does the school place multiples? Some schools have a policy that twins must be separated. Clarify what role you will play in deciding their placement.
3. How does the school implement Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS)? The school should have a well-functioning plan in place to create a mutually respectful and caring environment. Detentions and suspensions should be rare.
4. What services does the school provide? Does it have all-day kindergarten? Before- and after-school care? How does it handle special education needs? Gifted kids? Does it have specials (art, music, P.E.)?
5. How ethnically and economically diverse is the student body? Diversity is key if you want your children to learn how to get along with people from different backgrounds at school.
6. How active is the PTO? Parent-teacher organizations make the fun stuff happen: the fall festivals, the teacher appreciation, the field days.
7. How does the school keep students safe? Our school is gated and the only way in during school hours is through a locked door after your presence is approved by a staff member.
8. What are typical class sizes? Our Title I school has class sizes in the low 20’s. A nearby school that has lots of open enrollment kids has around 30 per class.
9. What is the size of the school? I prefer smaller schools with only a few classes per grade. I love that every adult at my daughter’s school knows her by name.
If you have concerns about your neighborhood school, you can choose a different public school. Contact your desired school directly to find out the enrollment requirements.
Charter and Private Schools
I’ve grouped these together because they operate similarly, though charter schools are free and have a few more regulations than private schools. Ask these questions in addition to those above:
1. What are the criteria for hiring teachers? These schools do not have to hire certified teachers with a background in education. Find out how they choose their staff.
2. What is the attrition rate for students? How many students leave the school yearly? How many of the sixth graders were there in kindergarten? Some schools work hard to serve all their students well. Others shrug if kids are struggling and hint that they should look elsewhere.
3. How are the school’s finances? Charter schools receive an annual rating on how well they are managing their money, which you can look up at the Arizona Republic’s database (it contains the same data as the charter board’s database, but is easier to access). Charter schools do fail sometimes, so check out the financial health of the school that interests you.
4. What services cost extra? For example, some charter schools offer half-day kindergarten for free but charge a fee for full day. Some private schools require students to purchase their own textbooks.
5. What is the educational philosophy? Often, private and charter schools offer a non-mainstream education, such as Montessori or classical. Find out what and how they want to teach.
6. What level of parent commitment is required? Some schools expect parents to fundraise, volunteer, and/or donate large amounts of money. They may want parents to agree to a beliefs statement or certain conditions on home life, including screen time and nutrition.
7. How does my child get in? There may be a competitive application process or a lottery system. Ask how the school handles siblings—if one gets in, are the others automatically accepted too?
Homeschooling is when parents coordinate their children’s learning at home. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a parent teaches them directly. Parents may enroll their kids in an online school, hire tutors, or participate in a co-op. The best place to learn more about your options is the Arizona Families For Home Education website. This group also sponsors a convention in July where you can find out about local co-ops, support services, curricula, and more.
I know, it’s a lot. But chances are that whatever you choose will work out fine. Do your due diligence and just go with it. I promise that your children’s lives will not be ruined by an imperfect school year, and there is always another option to try.
by Erin Sweeten
It's our last installment featuring PVMOM members who joined in 2012 or earlier. This week, meet Gina Salazar-Hook and Judy Krendick, both of whom have twin teens! Virtual high fives to both of you for your great support and example through the years. I've also gotten notes from some of you asking when my interview will show up, so I did one too!
Gina Salazar- Hook
Member Since: 2003, when I was about 3 month pregnant with my fraternal twin boys. I couldn’t wait to join, ask millions of questions from car seats to strollers. I always thought PVMOM would be “for my twins” but it ended up being life changing for me!
Children: I have fraternal twin boys, Michael and Kendall age 14, and a daughter, Makena, age 13.
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: PVMOM changed my life in so many ways. First and foremost, it helped me become the best mom I could be thanks to all of the speakers and the support of other families going through similar things. Second, I am blessed with the best “playgroup” ever. We have 10 families who have remained close all these years and who I know will be my best friends for the rest of my life. We still celebrate holidays, birthdays and vacation together. Lastly, my years on the PVMOM and MOA boards revealed skills I didn’t know I had and inspired me to continue doing non-profit work that I love.
Funny Parenting Story: One that always stands out is the time we had two toilets overflowing at once… one with solid waste! The toilets were clogged so bad we had to call a plumber. It turns out my precious toddlers flushed 10 plastic Disney characters down the toilets.
Best Parenting Advice: The days are long but the years are short. Our children grow and change so quickly. Cherish each moment because time moves too quickly.
Member Since: 2003. I am almost positive I became a member in 2003 but could have been 2004. My mind is mush after close to 14 years of my fabulous twins!
Children: My twins will turn 14 in November.
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: I love the resources it has provided over the years! For instance, if you were looking for a doctor or dentist it was right there at your finger tips!
Special Parenting Memory: Hosting the NICU Reunion fundraiser over 10 years ago was a very special time for our family. The Scottsdale Shea (Honor Health) NICU was incredible for the short time our son was in their care.
Best Parenting Advice: When you know better, you do better!
Member Since: 2012
Children: Abigail, age 9. Ronan and Callum, age 6
Favorite Thing About PVMOM: All the tiny tots. Now that my kids are past the tiny, squishy stage I know I can get my baby fix at any family event!
Funny Parenting Story: When the boys were about eight or nine months old, I was in the midst of a messy diaper change with Ronan when my three-year-old started narrating Callum’s sudden blow-out. “Mom, he has poop on his back! Now he’s rubbing his hands in it! Now he’s crawling behind the chair! Now he’s wiping it on the wall! Now he’s COMING THIS WAY! I’m getting OUT of here!” Callum was just out of my line of sight, and I just had to giggle at Abigail’s tenth-level drama as I worked at lightning speed to wipe, butt paste, and seal up Ronan in a new diaper. Every twin mom should have a preschooler narrate her life.
Best Parenting Advice: Jot down the things that make you laugh or warm your heart.The early years become such a blur later on—I love having those little snippets now.
by Erin Sweeten
Each week in October, PVMOM is featuring some of our most loyal members on the blog. This week, take some time on your lunch break or during afternoon nap to get to know a little more about Shenen Dietrich, a past President of PVMOM and our national rep, who clearly looks quite youthful despite what her kids say; Monika Miller, owner of the Once Upon a Child consignment store, a longtime business partner of our club and a twin mom who deserves hardship pay for her experiences with breastfeeding; and Sue Hutchinson, a past board member and frequent giver of sage advice whose children are all now taller than she is, perhaps because of all the peanut butter they used to eat. What a great group of women we have in PVMOM.
Member Since: 2010
Children: My boys are 8 years old
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: The friendships and the sense of having survived and prospered, both as an individual and as a club.
Funny Parenting Story: Two Halloweens ago, our family dressed up as the Scooby Doo bunch. I was Daphne in a purple dress and pink gogo boots with a red wig. Blake, one of my twin six-year-old boys at the time, said that I didn’t look much like Daphne. I asked him why since I was all dressed up. He said that Daphne doesn’t have wrinkles and I had wrinkles. Out of the mouth of babes!!
Best Parenting Advice: Keep to a schedule, ask for help when you need it, and keep them napping for as long as possible.
Member Since: 2010
Children: Brooklyn & Brianna are 7, Bianca is 5
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: Friendships and the ongoing support from other members.
Funny Parenting Story: Imagine trying to breastfeed a newborn with 2-year-old twins non-stop jumping on the bed.
Best Parenting Advice: Life is a journey, not a destination.
Member Since: 2004-- That would be 14 years ago! I am still friends with the moms who referred me! We met at the Paradise Valley Community Center while our 4 year olds were taking an itty bitty sports class. Those four year olds are graduating high school in May!
Children: I have three boys, 13, 13 and 17. They are all over 6 feet tall now, so I am the shortest one in the house!
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: I really loved having the opportunity to learn from other moms of multiples before my twins were born. Their wisdom and recommendations for gear and books, made for much smoother sailing when my twins were born. As my children grow up, PVMOM members have provided a great support system and a resource network. In turn, I enjoy giving back and have served on the board and try to respond on Facebook as much as possible.
Funny Parenting Story: There is the time that I found both of my toddlers sitting on the kitchen floor armed with butter knives, elbow deep in a large jar of peanut butter. They were such a mess, I couldn't even be mad, I just ran for the camera! But even funnier is the time that one of my sons said, "Girls don't have a penis; mommy has a big butt!"
Best Parenting Advice: I have found as a parent of three boys, it is best to choose your battles wisely. So I don't argue with them if they don't want a haircut, even when it falls to below their shoulders and hides their eyes. There are just more important things in life than controlling everything and being "right" all the time. And.... expect to go to the principal's office at least annually!
by Erin Sweeten
Welcome back to the blog for our latest group of interviewees in this month's Member Appreciation series! These wise, real, funny moms have BTDT (been there, done that). I'll let them tell you all about it themselves.
Member Since: 2008. I joined shortly after we moved here when the girls were 10 months old.
Children: My fraternal twin girls, Mia and Rachel, are now 10 years old.
Favorite thing about PVMOM: it is a group of women from all different backgrounds, many who have experienced a complicated path to get here, and we all have come together to share the journey of raising our multiples.
Parenting memory: When the girls were two months old they were finally both home from the NICU. One day, Rachel just wouldn't settle down. She was crying nonstop for over an hour and nothing would soothe her. I was sitting on the couch holding her and I myself crying, feeling so frazzled and not knowing what to do. My husband came down from his office to try to help and he looked at the coffee table in front of me and asked, "Whose bottle is that?" This bottle sat inches away from me and in my exhaustion I hadn't noticed it or realized until that moment that I hadn't fed Rachel her last feeding. The poor baby was starving! Needless to say, we set up a feeding chart that afternoon. So, this isn't exactly a funny story but looking back at it, I recall how overwhelmed and exhausted I was and how hard those early days were taking care of two babies. That incident made both my husband and I realize that I needed more help and more time to take care of myself and that is the advice I always give new moms.
Best Parenting Advice: When my girls were babies, I asked a good friend, who has twin boys two years older than my girls, if it ever gets easier. Her response was, "it doesn't get easier, it just changes." I have found that to be true. I didn't know how we would survive the transition to solids, potty training, moving into big girl beds, grade school, etc. Each time we do survive it and we look back and laugh that we thought it was such a big challenge. Now we face the preteen stage and I'm not sure how we will survive that. Wish us luck!
Member Since: 2006. I started out in BAMOM(Birmingham Area) when my twins were 8 wks & when we moved to Phx in 2006 (then 18 mo) I promptly looked for a new MOM club.
Children: Six children, ages 16, 13, 13, 10, 7, and 4
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: I love the unique connection and instant camaraderie twin moms have. There is absolutely nothing like gestating, raising and loving two (or more) of the same aged kids. I love that we all “get it.” I love being a twin mom and connecting with other ones. I just wish I could do it more.
Funny Parenting Story: I just ran across an old email detailing a day in the life of my energetic two year olds- smashed bananas in the carpet, hair pulling during library story time, flooding the kitchen with the water dispenser and their crowning achievement: working together to get the garage door off its tracks and falling onto the car! There sure were some crazy times, but boy have they always had fun together, and I consider that one of the biggest gifts I’ve given them as a twin mom. They’ve had little undivided attention but they have always had a built in best friend for life. I still love to watch their special bond grow and deepen with time. They’re such a blessing to each other and to me.
Best Parenting Advice: Listen to all advice politely and then promptly do whatever works best for you.
I’ve included “then and now” pics. I always loved that the newspaper hat was unknowingly a BOGO ad in this baby pic;)
Member Since: 2012. I have been a member of PVMOM for 6 years! That's about 40 in singleton years.
Children: My b/g twins Sofia and Nathaniel are 7.5 years old.
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: I met my best friends through PVMOM and it has been my savior through the challenging and often isolating experience of raising twin tornadoes.
Funny Parenting Story: Oh, man, where do I begin? Usually my brain blocks everything out - it's a self-defense mechanism. But I have a fresh example today. See the pic. #SoBlessed
Best Parenting Advice: The best books on raising toddler twins are made in the Napa valley and come in a bottle.
PVMOM is adding new members by the week, and we're so glad you are all here! We want to take the month of October to introduce everyone to some wonderful women you may not know yet: those who have been faithful members of PVMOM for at least six years. Some of these moms have twins in early elementary, while others are navigating the teen years. These are the twin moms who have been there, done that. They have offered advice and friendship through years of parenting. They've made it through the newborn stage and the baby stage and the toddler stage and many more stages, and they've stuck with PVMOM through it all, often serving on the board or in other volunteer roles as well. We are so grateful to have them as part of our mom tribe. Without further ado, let's meet this week's group.
Member Since: 2011
Children: Boy/Girl Twins, turning 7 next month
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: I love that soon to be MoMs & new MoMs have a database of other MoM's in the area to learn and grow from. All of us have a moment of panic when we find out that it's multiples and we just need a community of woman to support us and that is exactly what PVMOM gives. We get a chance to ask different MoM's going through different ages & stages of their children's lives what it has been like raising multiples. We really do have a unique experience raising multiples and it's good for other members to hear them.
Funniest Parenting Memory: After almost 7 years with twins I have so many...but I guess it makes sense to start with the first funny memory. Me being a first time mom of course wanted to have some newborn pix of the kids & Andy and I. Well we show up to this photography studio for these pix & the first picture in Andy is holding Blaze and Blaze starts to pee on him. That is funny enough in itself, but the best part is that I have a picture of my husband Andy trying to cover Blaze's wee wee with a finger laughing hysterically and swearing like a sailor. It was awesome, and I love that I get to see the picture every time I go up my stairs.
Best Parenting Advice: Andy and I have a firm belief that our job as parents is to not raise a-holes. So that is our personal family mantra...definitely not for the more conservative families but it really works for us.
Member Since: 2011 - Jillian Constantino and I attended our very first meeting on the same night!Children: Twin girls, age 7
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: Friendship with other moms who “get” it and being able to offer my experience to help other moms.
Funniest Parenting Story: My kids didn’t truly understand that boys and girls and were different until we had a sleepover early last year with another twin mama’s boys. One of the girls was brushing her teeth and one of the boys came running into the bathroom to go potty. So he’s standing there, relieving himself, and you can see the moment of realization as she stops brushing and openly gawks at him, “What is going on???” I had to explain that boys and girls are different and why boys pee standing up.
Favorite Parenting Quote: “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s so very true.
Member Since: 2008
Children: Twins, age 10; Singletons, ages 6 and 2
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: The support of other twin moms. We face unique situations with twins and it’s nice to know I’m not the only one and I’m not going crazy!
Funniest Parenting Story: I remember just a few weeks after bringing the twins home I was so tired. It was 2 am and they were up. I was changing my daughter and right as I pulled her diaper off, she had explosive diarrhea that shot all the way on the wall, on my feeding pillow, the floor! I was exhausted and at my wits end. But after she did this, I burst out in laughter. It was one of those necessary moments that just got me back on track as a mom. Needless to say, I was up late cleaning that night, and giggling the entire time.
Best Parenting Advice: I was so busy with them at times, I wasn’t in the moment and enjoying it with them. Sometimes we are so busy being moms caring for them, we forget to enjoy them.
Member Since: 2011
Children: Twin boys, age 7
Favorite Thing about PVMOM: Being able to connect with other mothers of multiples who get it! Parenting twins (or more) is different in many ways than parenting children who arrive one at a time, so while I have other friends who are mothers, they can't necessarily relate to all of my challenges and concerns in the same way that other MoMs can.
Special Parenting Memory: Wow, after nearly 7 years of parenting, there are so many that it's hard to choose! One of my most precious memories from the newborn days was the day that we brought our second twin home from the hospital. (They were born nearly 6 weeks early and had to stay in the hospital for a while to "feed and grow," and one was ready to come home a few days before his brother.) When I placed him into the crib beside his already-sleeping twin that evening, he looked at his brother and reached out his hand to touch him, as if to say "There you are! I've been wondering where you went."
Favorite Parenting Quote: This quote is attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and applies to life in general, but I think it is particularly applicable to parenting: "The only thing that is constant is change." Since my sons were born, I have found that children are always changing. Just when you think you have things figured out, they change.
by Erin Sweeten
Halloween approaches, and if you are lucky, you can still persuade your adorable multiples to dress in themed costumes. Somehow my family missed that window. The closest we got was in 2016 when Abi wanted to be a witch and Callum wanted to be a lion. I tried to convince Ronan to go as a wardrobe, but he had his heart set on radioactive frog. Oh well. Once you've done Thing One and Thing Two, what else is out there? I have collected nine unique DIY family costume ideas for twins, triplets, and the whole family.
For this costume, you will need poster board, elastic, and yellow duct tape. Staple elastic to painted poster board cut-outs to create point a and point b masks, and apply the tape to your kids' shirts for roads.
2.Bob Ross and a Painting
Bob needs a curly wig and a drawn-on beard, plus a big paintbrush (bonus if you can find a palette). For the painting, just pick up a landscape painting at a thrift store, remove it from the frame, and let your child wear the canvas like a sign around his or her neck.
3.Rock, Paper, Scissors
You can buy this adult costume on Amazon, or you could just paint and cut out some kid-sized cardboard or poster board.
4.Three Blind Mice
Give the kiddos cute mouse ears and tails (white laundry rope would work fine for the tails), dark round sunglasses, and canes. If you want to get edgy, you could let one kid have a shorter tail while you carry a piece of rope and a big toy knife like you're the farmer's wife.
5.Where the Wild Things Are
Max needs a white sweat suit, a gold paper crown, and a wolf tail, which you could make from a fuzzy scarf. You can create or buy as many monster costumes as you'd like; big horns and shaggy fur/hair or big scales are a plus. Click on the image to see how this family put their costume together.
Finally! Something to do with all those diaper boxes! Spray paint them and connect them with black duct tape. If your kids are small, you will need to use smaller boxes, but hey, you buy wipes in bulk too, right? If the kids don't want to actually be inside the boxes, you can make them 2D to wear sandwich board style.
Okay, Trolls are not SUPER unique, but they're so fun! Leotards or camis, bright tutus, and plenty of colored hair spray for the win!
A very easy costume created with cardboard squares and a black sharpie. This one works especially well for a big family. You come up with the funny words or phrases. My family of 5 might do "CANDY." A great word for a group of seven people would be "WINNING."
This dinosaur trainers costume might be my favorite, because it is so representative of actual life with multiples some days. Kid dino costumes are easy to find at thrift stores or on swip swaps if you don't want to buy them new. Parents wear fitted red shirts under white safari-type shirts, with claw marks cut into the white shirts so the red shows through like blood. Khakis, outdoor hats, and boots complete the ensemble. Click on the image to see how this family put their costume together.
Welcome to the fourth and final installment of our series on parenting special needs kids. This week, Jill Hanon, our PVMOM special needs forum moderator, gets real about the strong emotions that often come with the parenting process. You can find the previous installments here:
Part 1: What to do when you Notice Developmental Delays
Part 2: When your Children are too Old for AZEIP: DDD, Developmental Preschool, and IEPs
Part 3: Advocating for your Special Needs Children
Erin: Some parents describe going through shock, grief, or guilt when they realize that their children face extra difficulties. What was your experience, and how did you get through it?
Jill: It was hard. But I’m the kind of person who says, “It is what it is, let’s just do what we have to do.” Just tell me what it is and what I have to do, and I do it.
Erin: What has been the hardest part of parenting special needs kids?
Jill: The hardest part was about a year into it after their diagnoses. It was so tiring. The kids were melting down and having regressions. I felt despair sometimes, and would cry myself to sleep. I would think, “He’s never going to be normal but he’s going to be expected to be normal.”
Erin: How did you get through that time?
Jill: You just go through it. And you see progress. You see a path ahead. You focus on the little bright spots and the things that make life easier. Like for us, I made a giant schedule in the kitchen to keep track of everything. You remember that you are not in it alone. Get with people who can tell you, “You’re going to be okay. There is a light. You just have to keep going.”
Erin: What other advice do you have for people walking this path?
Jill: Get through the process of dealing with the emotions of the diagnosis as soon as you can, and start working on how you can help. Go lock yourself in the bathroom and cry it out when you need to.
Erin: How does parenting special needs kids affect marriage and co-parenting?
Jill: Sometimes one parent handles most of it and the other doesn’t really see it, or maybe accept it. I recommend that both parents stay involved in the appointments so you are both fully aware.
Erin: What advice do you have for keeping your relationship strong?
Jill: Communicate! Tell your spouse when you are at the end of your rope. Find time for yourselves. If your children are in DDD, you may qualify to receive respite care. Take advantage of it.
Erin: Jill Hanon, thank you for sharing so much of your heart, your wisdom and your experience with us this month. I know you have helped encouraged many families.
As I sat down to write this post I was overcome joy but eyes filled with tears. PVMOM has been a huge part of my motherhood journey and I hope some of you out there feel the same.
My story with PVMOM started back in 2015 -- my twins were just about to turn ONE and we had returned to Phoenix after a 6 month stint in San Francisco. I learned about PVMOM (from another member) when I was pregnant but never joined. I had really taken a step back from the working world and knew I would need to dive head first into making mom friends so got the courage to attend my first meeting - Favorite Things / Baby Addition. I remember walking into the room not knowing a single face, sitting in my chair and just hoping the person sitting next to me would say something. Most of you might not know this about me but I am actually very shy when around lots of people I don't know. As the meeting progressed it became very clear that this was a place full of moms just like me. Mom's that had sleep struggles, nursing challenges, work and relationships to deal with and the overwhelming sense that we had to do it all and be it all. I think I left that night and ran home to my husband as giddy as a school girl.
Shortly after that meeting was my first twin play date. A few of us gathered at the Biltmore -- threw down some blankets for the kids and instantly engaged in conversation all about this crazy thing called motherhood. To this day those moms on my very first playdate are still some of my dearest friends. We have had many more play dates these past 4 years just like that -- kids playing, moms congregating sharing the latest "omg guess what H did today?" PVMOM gave me this and gave me support through so many good and hard times. For this I am eternally grateful.
My role on the board started that same first year, as meeting planner. I worked hard to build a schedule of meetings that brought moms together and gave them some new tools in their mom kit. I remember my first meeting we got shoved in a tiny meeting room on one of the patient floors with a packed house and a wonderful presentation by a fellow member all about kids not listening! I got hooked pretty quickly and finally found an outlet that allowed me to give back and have something else to focus on besides just being mom. The second and third year I spent as your board President, alongside my partner in crime, Beth Gevirtz. Together we took this group places we didn't think we could. We grew membership, hosted so many fabulous events, sponsored meetings and even started the New Mom Mingle. We rocked the online auction both years and were even able to support a few other local non-profits. I say all of this not to toot my own horn but to showcase what something as simple as a mom's group has done for my life -- and countless others. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by an amazing group of women on our board that made all of this happen. The best thing about being on the board has nothing to do with all the numbers and wins but rather the friendships developed and the connections I have made with so many members.
My sole purpose for stepping into the role of President was to find ways to foster connections and relationships between moms. Being a mom of multiples is special and very, very hard. I remember feeling so isolated and lost in those early months and I never want a MoM to be left alone to figure out this wild ride. My wish for this group and each member is that you find a way to connect, get the support you need and then give back. It's the circle of life in some sense -- we all need the support of the moms with older kids but the moms with younger kids need us too. I hope you show up to events and let your kids explore in all the fun, enjoy a mom's night out because YOU need time too, and make it a point to attend the workshops because I can promise not only will you learn something but you will walk away fulfilled after spending a chunk of your day with other moms JUST.LIKE.YOU. And always know there is a board of directors standing behind this group and the door is always open.
To the current board, may you have a wonderful, fulfilling, exciting year! There has already been a lot of time and effort spent to get off on the right foot. There are no words to express how grateful I feel to have worked along side you and I cherish the friendships I have.
To our members, thank you for trusting us as we explored and played. So many of you showed up with smiling faces, silly stories and it always left me feeling proud that we could all stand together as PVMOM. There is nothing like this tribe, nothing like the power of a MoM and it's all because of our great membership. Cheers to 2018/19
This week, we pick up part 3 of our four-part series on seeking help for kids with developmental delays and other special needs. Jill Hanon, our Special Needs forum moderator, shares her perspective on advocating for our children, especially in a school setting. If you missed earlier Parts, find them here:
Part 1: What to do When You Notice Developmental Delays
Part 2: When Your Children are too Old for AZEIP
Erin: If I’m the parent of kids with IEPs, how involved should I expect to be? How much time will I need to put in to advocate for their education?
Jill: You’re going to get out what you put in. And it depends what your child’s needs are. I am super involved. There are times that I’ve requested IEP meetings because I don’t feel like there’s enough progress happening. You can always request a review in writing. There’s a specific time frame for everything. I think they have ten days to respond to you. I’m very hands on because the more I know the teachers and the therapists and everything that’s happening, the more I can carry that through for my child. You have to be their advocate for everything. If you have a child with special needs, you’re their voice a lot of times. Even if they are able to talk to their doctors as they get older, you still have to be there advocating on everything. If you don’t do it, no one is going to do it. Their teachers can only do so much, no matter how amazing and wonderful they are. And there’s only so much they can do without your specific request or approval. I’ve had situations where I’ve been sitting in an IEP meeting and teachers are staring at me meaningfully across the table like, “Ask the question!” and then afterwards they’ll come up to me and say, “I’m so glad you brought that up because I’ve been dying to say something, and I couldn’t.” There are certain things that school personnel can’t say or do unless you initiate.
Erin: What’s your advice for advocating for your special needs child?
Jill: Get to know the process as well as you can. Be willing to question the process. I’ve had to get the help of an education advocate, because I didn’t like what was happening with one of their IEPs. They were trying to kick him off before he was ready. All I had to do was throw around the name of the advocate and say we were going to meet with her, and that was enough. Sometimes you have to play hardball. I try to be gracious with the team. Because they work hard and go through a lot. But at the same time, there’s a process from their end that they have to follow. The more you understand that process, the more you can make it work in your child’s advantage.
Erin: Do you still need DDD if your child is receiving services through their school?
Jill: It depends on the kid. They might qualify through services through DDD but not at school, because services at school are based entirely on academic performance. Like maybe they can communicate okay and ask questions at school, so they don’t qualify for speech therapy at school, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. Then you become the chaos coordinator. Because you’re coordinating his 504 or IEP at school—a 504 is accommodations but not interventions and services like you get with an IEP— and doctor appointments, and DDD therapies.
Erin: Why do you need the official 504 piece of paper for accommodations when you could just informally ask the teacher to do it?
Jill: Because they are required to do it if it is on the piece of paper. And if you have more than one teacher, or you transfer, you need that. In our situation, my first grader has six or seven different teachers. So all of those teachers and administration have to adhere to that plan. Let’s say your child’s issue is ADHD. The accommodation might be putting up a folder so they don’t get distracted during a test. You might have an amazing team that knows what accommodations your child needs, but the more you know going into the meeting, the better the plan is going to be. The more benefit your child’s going to get. We’ve taken some of our DDD therapists into school meetings because they know what’s going on with our kid. The more collaboration you can have with that team, the better it will be.
Erin: Would you agree that it’s never too late to start the process?
Jill: Absolutely. If your gut tells you something, early or late, follow it. You are going to be your child’s biggest advocate. You know that child better than anybody, so follow that hunch. Even through five years of therapies and everything you can imagine, I’m still finding things with my kids that make me go, “HMMM. This isn’t working, I’ve tried everything else, the poor kid can’t read, let’s get his eyes checked.” And sure enough, there’s an issue. So it’s an ongoing process. And as one thing gets better, something else comes to the surface. A lot of things have the same symptoms, but different things are causing them, or masking them. Don’t be afraid to try different things, ask silly questions, try different doctors. Unfortunately there’s more and more families out there affected, and while we have a very long list of services available to us in Arizona, there’s a lot of people who need them. So sometimes there’s wait lists, sometimes you have to search out providers. If you’re sure something’s not right, don’t take no for an answer.
Erin: What would you advise someone like me, for whom it doesn’t come naturally to push back?
Jill: It doesn’t come naturally to me, either. I’m the wallflower when it comes to these kinds of things. But for me, it became, “If I don’t get this kid help, I don’t know what his life is going to be like.” And I have seen SO much improvement in my kids between the ages of two and six. I’ve had friends and family say, “Oh, I don’t get it.” And then they’d see them a few years later and say, “Oh my gosh!” You have to find things that work. You have to get them in therapies that are going to work for them, but it WILL work. There was a whole year where I was crying myself to sleep every night, feeling like my son was not getting better. And then it was like a light bulb went on. There’s always going to be struggle. It’s a spectrum and it’s a scale, so it depends on where you are on that, but there will be improvements, there’s something out there, and you just have to find it.
Erin: Do you have any favorite networking resources?
For autism specifically, the autism society of greater phoenix is great. There’s a parents of special needs phoenix or east valley Facebooks page. We have the PVMOM special needs forum. People shouldn’t be afraid to join it and ask questions. And for me, even sitting in the waiting room at therapy, talking to the other parents. I’ve gotten so much information just from talking to other parents who have been through it. The autism society has a parent mentor program if your child has been recently diagnosed. Other places do it as well. They will match you up with another family that has been through the process and answer some of those initial questions.
by Erin Sweeten
Last week, we spoke with PVMOM Jill Hanon, who coordinates our Special Needs Forum, about getting help for struggling babies and toddlers. You can find Part One here. This week, we pick up where we left off: what should you do when your children still have delays but are older than age 3?
Erin: My kids are about to age out of AZEIP. What happens next?
Jill: Your service coordinator is supposed to start the process with you. We had a ton of glitches because our service coordinator was kind of non-existent. Unfortunately both AZEIP and DDD have a lot of turnover. I can’t even tell you how many coordinators I’ve had in the last five years. I’ve lost track. We’re on almost a year now with our current one and I’m like, “Please, DDD just hold onto him.” For the transfer to DDD, you have some forms and things to fill out. You apply to Altec. It’s the long-term care health approval part of it. And there is a financial approval piece when you leave AZEIP. DDD looks at yours and the children’s income. DDD goes from age 3 through 18. Be prepared for a lot of red tape. Jump through the hoops, fill out the forms, and keep copious notes of who you talk to when. Keep track of everything.
Erin: So, if you qualify for DDD at age three, are you good until age eighteen, or do your kids have to be re-evaluated?
Jill: They are evaluated at ages three and six. Age six, because they age out of some of the programs. Although there can be exceptions. Because my son Jack repeated kindergarten, he actually got his services extended. His brother Charlie didn’t. Same age, same qualifications, but because one stayed in kinder and one didn’t, they had different results.
Erin: What are the fees associated with DDD? Is it a sliding scale?
Jill: It is a sliding scale. What they do is, first they submit it to your private insurance. What private insurance doesn’t cover, DDD is supposed to cover. There may be a co-pay, depending on what you qualified for. We haven’t had a ton of out-of-pocket. Most of our expenses were because the transition between AZEIP and DDD got messed up. I had to reapply twice because they literally lost our paperwork.
Erin: If I missed the window for AZEIP and my child is over age three, can I still apply for evaluations and services?
Jill: Yes. You just start the process with DDD. You go to the Department of Economic Security website, and then there’s a page for disabilities. The website is a little difficult to navigate, but there is tons of good information on there. It’s a good resource. Here’s the link: https://des.az.gov/services/disabilities/developmental-disabilities. The application is basically the same thing. You make an inquiry, have an evaluation. However, it’s going to be harder to qualify for services, especially if you don’t have a diagnosis of some sort. That doesn’t mean autism specifically, but if you just have a documented developmental delay, that’s going to help the situation. They will look at scrips from your doctor. You have to turn all that stuff in.
Erin: If my kids qualify for services, what happens next?
Jill: First, you have to get a prescription from your pediatrician for therapy services. For example, if I’m approved for speech therapy services one hour a week, the doctor needs to write that scrip exactly that way and send it to DDD. Then DDD sends it to the provider.
Erin: Let’s talk about developmental preschool. How does that fit in?
Jill: We participated in Sun Kids, which is the developmental preschool program in the Paradise Valley School District. Scottsdale also has one called the Panda Program. I believe other districts have them too, though I don’t know them by name. It is part of the public school system. If you’re interested, you contact the district office in your area. Then you get tested to see if you qualify. It’s essentially a skills and cognitive test. It seems kind of silly at three years 10 months, which I believe is the qualifying age. You have to be at least that age to test for preschool. You can stay in the school for one or two years.
Erin: How early do I need to start working on this before the school year starts?
Jill: My boys are August birthdays. So school started before they were allowed to go. But I think I got the process started in February or March and they were evaluated in May.
Erin: If one of my children has developmental delays and the other one doesn’t, can they still go to the same school?
Jill: Yes. Developmental classrooms all have what they call “peer models.” If your child doesn’t have delays, he or she can be evaluated to be a peer model. There is a tuition cost to being a peer model, while there is no cost for the developmental preschool if your child qualifies with developmental delays. It’s either a morning or an afternoon program, usually about two and a half hours. Most districts have busing available.
Erin: Does a developmental preschool have an IEP (Individualized Educational Program) for each child?
Jill: Yes, you go through the whole process. The child goes through an evaluation, then you will meet, and write goals, and there will be reviews of those goals each year or more often.
Erin: When my kids go into kindergarten, does the IEP follow them, or do they have to do it all over again?
Jill: Yes. It follows them. But let’s back up. When they get tested for developmental preschool, that test lasts for three years. They might re-evaluate them before kindergarten, and then that will last for three years. Basically, they have to go through the whole process every three years. The testing is called a “MET (Multidisciplinary Evaluation Team) Report.” It differs by age. Some of it is a lot of questions that you, the parent, have to fill out. And some of it is actual testing with the kids—looking at pictures, playing games, things like that. One really important thing to note is that if your child has qualified for developmental preschool, when that child turns five, they HAVE to start kindergarten. If you pull them out, you have to put them somewhere else on your own dime. Then when you go back to public school you have to go through the whole IEP process again. My sons turned five right before the deadline, and one was ready for kindergarten and one wasn’t. But we wanted to stay in the district and keep their IEPs, so we had to put them in kindergarten. And one ended up repeating.
Erin: Thanks for all the great info on transferring or starting services for older children! We'll be back next week with all your advice on how to navigate and advocate for your special needs children.
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