Sometimes the pressures of raising children, maintaining a home, and ensuring everyone is happy and healthy can be overwhelming. Despite the day-to-day challenges, Parents Alexis and Matthew were determined to be the best parents possible. But, when the challenges of their special needs toddler threatened to overshadow their newborn daughter, they knew it was time to ask for help.
Alexis and Matthew, a young Mesa couple, moved from California to Arizona in 2014, specifically to ensure they lived in an ideal environment in which to raise a family. Both were eager to be parents, but the educational, health, and cultural environment in their California town just wasn’t a good fit for families with small children.
However, getting married, moving to a new state, and having a child brought lots of pressure and challenges along the way. Matthew worked at least two jobs, sometimes up to four jobs, so that Alexis could be home with their daughter, which was important to them. Three-year-old Elizabeth has special needs, including some sensory issues and possibly, autism. The couple had been desperately trying to keep up with the appointments, evaluations and expenses, plus figure out how to successfully parent the strong-willed toddler, who didn’t seem to respond to the type of parenting style Alexis and Matthew were raised in.
“We had family time and everything growing up, but it was a different time back when I was child,” says Matthew. “Children were meant to be seen, and not heard. There were no different styles.”
When daughter No. 2, Andi, came along, the couple feared her needs could get lost in the flurry of activity surrounding Elizabeth. And that’s when help arrived … right to their doorstep.
“Kacey was a Godsend,” says Alexis. “She always came with an open mind and was always ready to help.” Kacey Johns is a parent educator with the Parents as Teachers program through Catholic Charities, which helps educate and prepare parents with the skills and tools needed to raise happy, healthy children who are ready for Kindergarten.
From Kacey’s first visit, Alexis and Matthew were able to breathe a sigh of relief. No longer feeling confused and alone, the couple eagerly soaked up all the knowledge and insights that Kacey brought with her.
“It’s not like she just observes us,” says Matthew. “It’s completely interactive, we all do this as a family — all four of us. She’s helping us know how to respond to each of the girl’s cues and what to watch for, individually.”
Not only has Kacey helped them learn how to juggle the constantly changing needs of newborn Andi, but also how to better accommodate the vastly different learning styles of each child. In her weekly or bi-weekly appointments over the last year, Kacey has helped point out triggers and cues Elizabeth displayed that gave them an opportunity to intercept and prevent meltdowns and behavior challenges. “She taught us that there is no ‘normal’ — that every child is different and to embrace those differences,” says Alexis.
Kacey has not only helped them learn about parenting, but has also been a guiding light for them to connect with other community resources and programs to help with food expenses, medical care and evaluations. She recently attended an Individualized Education Plan appointment for Elizabeth at school to help the parents prepare for Elizabeth’s upcoming enrollment in a special preschool. In addition, Andi has been slow to walk, so Kacey has helped put them in touch with Arizona Early Intervention Program, which is an agency that can further assist them with developmental milestones.
“I was in tears when Elizabeth screamed ‘Miss Kacey is here’ for the first time. It’s heartwarming each time she speaks, but to hear how excited she is to see her come is amazing,” says Alexis. “She always brings so much information and resources for us, and the girls love her. It’s just incredible.”
The couple has learned that a cookie-cutter approach just doesn’t work for every child and that it’s OK to embrace their children’s differences and be flexible.
“It’s always been a challenge to go out anywhere with a special needs child,” says Alexis. “But thanks to Kacey, we look forward to going out as a family and not having to panic that it’s going to end badly. And we can’t wait for Elizabeth to start school.”
If you or a parent you know needs assistance with preparing for school and help with parenting, please contact our Parents as Teachers program at 480-388-3292. Catholic Charities Westside Head Start also offers resources and help for low-income families to prepare for kindergarten.