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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