Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #4 Happiness is….

Happiness is……….

In the Peanuts cartoon, happiness is a warm puppy.  In Nick’s world happiness comes in the most surprisingly simple ways.  While it would be nice if he could tell me what makes him happy it isn’t really necessary.  You can read it all over his face.  His smile is infectious and radiates through his big almond shaped eyes that twinkle while his eyebrows arch upward and the vein across his forehead pops out.  While my fingers dance across the keyboard writing this entry, I look over to see that exact look as he watches the famous flatulence scene in the movie, The Nutty Professor.  Oh jeez boys, farting and burping…. more on this in another blog entry…..

I think back to my youth and the things that made me happy were quite simple.   Mom packing my favorite lunch, a tuna sandwich, crunchy Cheetos and Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls tucked inside the brown bag that she stapled at the top.  Swimming and getting a Mr. Pibb out of the coke machine for .15 cents at the Houston Yacht Club always made me happy.  Much like me, Nick loves swimming, soda pop and Swiss Cake Rolls.

As an adult, happiness is the treasured time filled with the greatest of love from family and dear friends, digging in the garden, dancing,  having my cat snuggled on my lap and hitting those fuzzy yellow tennis balls.  Those are a few of the things that feed my soul along with watching my dancing machine…….who comes by it naturally….

And oh how he loves tennis balls too….

Regarding tennis balls, he seeks them out often and taps them rhythmically on his mouth.  Sometimes that seems to be all he needs to be content.  Besides tennis balls, Nick is constantly stimming with all sorts of odd things.  The term “stimming” is shorthand for self–stimulation.  It refers to a repetitive body movement which stimulates one’s own senses such as rocking, spinning, tapping or hand flapping. It has a function related to sensory input.    Each of us during the course of a day engages in some type of behavior to rev ourselves up. How many times have you been sitting and trying to pay attention and your feet or legs are either rocking or bouncing?  What about twirling your hair?  While Nick’s behaviors may stand out more they both serve the same function.  They are all ways we are trying to alert are senses.

This is an excerpt from a report by Kendra Convery, Occupational Therapist who evaluated Nick when we lived in California twelve years ago.   “Nick’s sensory system requires high intensity and duration experiences to meet the sensory threshold.  For this reason, his engagement in sensory activities in these realms often becomes more repetitive and all-encompassing.  In addition, it seems, at least in part that many of his behaviors are an attempt to create sensory input that is organizing for him.  For example, the calming effects of watching visual stimuli appear to slow down his body and calm him.

Not all children with sensory processing problems actively seek out more at all times.  In fact, the threshold can be much the opposite. Too much stimulation or noise may be overwhelming and supports must be put in place to control the environment.  On the autism spectrum the pendulum swings both ways. It is not just the movement but the visual as well. More on this in another blog entry in the future… now back to happiness according to Nick…

Nick looks at the world in many colorful and shiny ways and always with hand flapping by his ears… Here he is watching the movie Babe and seeing a very cool reflection….

For years he would actively seek out anything in a blue bottle like Windex as his new set of lenses.  He would turn it sideways and hold it as he peered through like it was a pair of binoculars.  These days all bottles of fluids are locked behind the newly minted child proof locked cabinets.  Yet he still manages to find something else to look through.  He is quite resourceful that way.

I love Nick’s sense of humor. He finds joy in the silliest things like watching funny cats or people sneezing on a YouTube video. Yes, you can find anything on YouTube (thanks to Brian S. – Nick’s Speech Therapist for the sneezing hook up!)  And playing practical jokes while I am trying to cook….

Ooooh nooooo Woody……Hardy har har, Nick!

As his Mom, there is no greater joy then to know that he is content and happy. He is engaged in our lives and full of spunk. What more could I ask for?  One sure thing to seal the deal is to make a run to the border.  We pull up and Nick pumps his fists with two thumbs up, saying “Taco Bell” pitch perfect!   In that moment, life is as good as it gets. Simply put,  happiness according to Nick.

That is what is in my noggin this week.  May you find the simple, shiny, colorful and tasty things in your week that make you want to do a happy dance!



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

13 thoughts on “Blog #4 Happiness is….

  1. Thanks for the smiles this morning T ! I really needed that today, my least favorite day. Love my rockin’ nephew always looking through cobalt colored glasses.

  2. I think looking through blue glass binoculars would be a cool perspective. I think i’ll try it. Esp. a cobalt blue would be very nice. Then again, deep violet could provide an interesting shift. Thanks for sharing. You are widening my world.

  3. Teresa, the “Happiness is” blog was truly enjoyable! A great balance between the prose and the pictures and the description of Nick’s joy weighted by the clinical explanation of autism’s activity and the spectrum which encompasses even the sometimes difficult to interpret expressions. But Nick has more reasons to be happy about….a Mom who has spent his lifetime working hard to make his life so enjoyable. Bravo Teresa!

    1. Thanks Jim, having a child on the autism spectrum can be confusing and daunting all at once. I hope these weekly blogs continue to both enlighten and entertain 🙂

  4. Hey! T. Great work. This is amazing to read. Keep following your passion. I hope to see you soon.

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