The COVID-19 pandemic brought huge changes to the way we work, live and play. It especially brought changes to the way students learn, often blending school life with home life. A family of four, with both parents working full-time jobs, and their youngest son who needs extra attention, faced a dilemma that can be described in one word: How?
“March 6, 2020; that was the last day of school,” said Marie Tiokou. “I remember that so vividly.” Having a special-needs child at home was especially challenging. Restless activity and an inability to focus on tasks was taking a toll on Mom and Dad.
Marie with her two sons, Frank (standing) and Charles, while visiting relatives in Chicago.
“The school provided a computer for both the boys, [Charles and his older brother, Frank],” said Marie. “But it was very hard to keep Charles on task. Disruption was a big issue.”
Marie is a nurse who works the nightshift at an area hospital. Taking care of COVID-19 and other patients was grueling. “It was hard for me to be with Charles.” Dad, who works during the day, did his best to help his son while keeping up with his employment demands. Having to give Charles the extra attention he needed with learning was “very tough,” said Marie. “At one point, it became impossible.”
So Marie spoke with Judith Wickelgren, Charles’ Support Coordinator, through the DES Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). “Jude kept in touch with me,” said Marie. “I told her, ‘I can’t be there for him. When I come home [from work], I’m exhausted, I have no energy to help Charles with school.” Plus, it became difficult for Dad to concentrate on his work and focus on Charles at the same time. “That’s when Jude talked to me about the [DDD] Attendant Care Program.”
In September 2020, DDD started offering temporary assistance to support remote learning to its school-aged members who were unable to attend classes in person. Working with the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and the Arizona Department of Education (ADE), DDD determined eligibility criteria and identified which services the Attendant Care Program could provide during the pandemic.
Jude explained to Marie how the program worked, and prepared and submitted the required documentation. Under the temporary program, a DDD member could have up to 40 hours a week of attendant care during the student’s instruction time.
“It was perfect!” said Marie.
A DDD contracted provider arranged for an Arizona State University student to help Charles. The college student was involved with remote learning for his own studies and was able to arrange his class schedule around Charles’ needs.
“It was very good,” said Marie. “Charles’ school starts at 7:30 a.m. [and] we’d get Charles ready. The learning assistant would come in at 7:15 or 7:30 a.m. and would sit with Charles throughout the school [day].” The teaching assistant also stayed after school hours to help Charles with homework.
With in-person learning now back in place, the newest challenge was to get Charles used to riding the bus without his older brother, Frank, who has graduated to another school. According to Marie, Charles “loves school. He loves the teacher.”
As for his therapies, Marie said that Charles’ teacher “felt that having one-on-one [therapy sessions] would be very beneficial.” So, in addition to weekly group therapy sessions at school, Charles now receives one-on-one speech and occupational therapies from DDD providers at home. Both Marie and Dad have “seen a lot of benefit” from this extra attention.
On the fun side, Charles loves anything involving a ball, especially basketball. He’ll spend 5 to 10 minutes each morning before going to school to “shoot the hoops,” as Marie describes it. He also plays recreational basketball and soccer at the local YMCA on Thursday and Friday evenings.
Looking back over the past year, facing so many work, home and school challenges, “I don’t know what would have happened [without DDD attendant care services],” said Marie.
Helping school-aged members win with remote learning is just another example of how DDD empowers Arizonans with developmental disabilities to lead self-directed, healthy and meaningful lives.
From everyone at DDD:
Happy 8th Birthday Charles!