Posted in Down syndrome, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #2~ Language Barriers

Blog 2~Language Barriers

Rewinding this week back to when Nick was six years old.  At the time, Al’s brother and family (Ron & Ali along their kids Anna and Sam), lived in London.  For the second time we flew overseas to visit them.  Years ago, we had decided to never let Nick’s disabilities hold us back from getting out into the world.  Here is a little bit about the second trip over.

I love England; everybody gets what you are saying even if you pronounce it wrong.  “Where will you be staying?”  Asked the customs clerk with her proper English accent.

“Esh-er” I exclaimed like a true native Texan would say.

She followed up, “Oh you mean Eee-sher,” using a long “e” vowel sound. I didn’t mind that she corrected my phonetics. Everyone was so nice and accommodating.  The town of Esher was quaint, just outside of London with pubs a plenty.  Cheers to the pubs they are family friendly and the pints of beer go down smooth.

Then, we hit the “Chunnel” which is the train that travels undersea from London to France. There is a different feel in France.  They seemed very put off by us; the stupid Americans in our tennis shoes, jeans, ball caps and fanny packs.   First stop, the Eiffel tower. Al, Ron and Nick made it to the top. Nick is fearless that way, the rest of the kids were scared.  Ali, Anna, Sam and my older son, Hank and I had to stop halfway up.  There is a small café at the midpoint.  We each ordered a hotdog, well sort of.  The order came out with each of us receiving not one but two foot long hotdogs inside a thick, crusty baguette a piece.  What a spectacle we were.  We couldn’t help but laugh at each other while the crust exploded with each bite sending crumbs jettisoning all over us.  We were in over our heads.  This would be the first of many times that the language barrier would get in the way.

The next day was grand a tour of the Notre Dame Cathedral.  Up the narrow, spiraled staircase we made our way to the top to see the gargoyles.  About halfway up Nick started dragging his feet so Al and I took turns schlepping him on our backs like pack mules.  The sound of the chimes was resounding and felt deep in the soul.  Hank imagined the grotesque hunch-backed bellringer, Quasimodo dangling from the rope to sound the time.  One thing I would suggest to anyone touring in Europe, do not wear flip flops.  Not only is there a lot of walking, but those stony steps are centuries old, worn and slick.  My feet have never been the same since that trip up to see the gargoyles.  One by one, we checked off the sites off our bucket list.  Mine was to sit at a sidewalk café and sip champagne where the artists are lined up.  Cheers to a successful day two, with no surprises.

The river tour along the Seine lovely but with one exception, the guide spoke French.  Every meal was a mystery with surprises like a fried egg on top of a hamburger patty and negotiating at the shops and trying to get taxis was frustrating.  We found ourselves lost in translation.  A few days in Paris were enough for me.  I was ready to get back to England, and be understood again.

I think about my son Nick, who has a limited vocabulary.  He often gets frustrated in trying to communicate his needs much like I did in France.   It is a feeling of helplessness and of being lost in many respects.  For Nick and others who are on the autism spectrum, supports are needed to help them convey their needs.   We use a picture symbol system called “Picture Exchange Communication System” or “Pecs.”  If Nick can see it in picture form, he can understand it.  These supports are Nick’s voice.  It is the tool that has given him his power and ability to navigate in the world.  When he feels like he is control, he stays even keeled and less apt to have a meltdown.

We have utilized the resources of our local agencies and the school staff to train us on how to support Nick.  In addition, we use Google images and laminate additional icons which he recognizes.  The pictures not only allow Nick to connect but also help to set his schedule for the day.  He follows it pointing to each icon as if he were reading a script.  Which is exactly the intent, set up the scene for what is to come and in return the anxiety level stays low. For instance we are going to mass.  Here is how the icons are laid out:  Church-Priest-Quiet-All Done-Car-Home-Sprite (reward.)

When Nick wants to ask for something it is usually something like this:  I want-Car-Mall-Taco Bell- Tacos & Sprite. Here is a menu icon board for B-Dubs which allows him to make choices on his own:

In the last few months we have purchased a portable hand held device that has the icons built in called Touch Chat. More on this in future blog entries…stay tuned..

After that trip overseas,  I totally empathized with Nick.  Paris taught me about language barriers.  The need to feel understood and have ones needs be met is something that is essential for all of us. Speaking of expressing wants and needs please let me know of what other topics you would like to hear about… That’s what is in my noggin this week… until next Monday!



Teresa is the Author of "A New Course: A Mother's Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism" and the mother of two boys. Her youngest son, Nick is 29 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Teresa's passion is helping others understand and navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. She is a DS-ASD consultant, advocate, speaker, and author. Follow Nick's world on Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism and on Twitter @tjunnerstall. For more information and media links, visit

6 thoughts on “Blog #2~ Language Barriers

  1. T, I enjoyed reading my first entry! Today when lily and I got home, we made a sandwich, ate in the “sunsine” and then snuggled while watching Elmo. Was such nice quiet moments, but meant so much! It meant so much to me that she slowed down and crawled under the blankie with me – just what mommy ordered (or needed) just then. Thank you for listening 🙂

  2. We remember it well. I think they called it “oeuf and beoeuf” which I’m sure I’ve misspelled. Loved your account of the trip and how Nick uses pictures to express himself. RR

  3. Very honored to be on your amazing blog site. I love reading all the stories about Nick, miss him and you guys all the time! I love the lemonade stand photo, it brings back all the fun from “Camp California” Love you guys!

    1. Courtney, glad you are enjoying the blog. We did have some fun summers together. I still remember going shopping for your school wardrobe and laying them out and taking a picture of you. I have that pic if you don’t let me know I will send it to you. xoxoxo Sweet Niece 🙂

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