Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Blog # 9~ Brotherly Love

Nick’s final exam schedule came home in the back pack last week.  I showed it to his brother, Hank who had just finished with his finals at NIU.  We both had a good laugh.

“Mom, remember my junior year of high school and those finals I had? They were a bitch!”

“How can I forget?  That one day you had a final in Trig and English.  Nick had the Blueberry Hill breakfast final.”

“Yea then the next day, it was Genetics and History and Nick’s was like Naperville River walk and shopping.  That was so pathetic!”

Each day that week, Nick got off so easy compared to Hank.  The rivalry of brothers extends past the boundaries of normally developed children.  So this week is all about brotherly love.  One question I am often asked is what the relationship is like between the two.  Rather than try to answer this I decided to go to the source, Hank.  Here is his perspective on the relationship with his younger brother.  Hank is going to be a sophomore at Northern Illinois University (NIU) and will be turning 20 next month.  The boys are 19 months apart in age.

My Brother Nick, By Hank Unnerstall:

“My brother Nick is not like any ordinary brother. There is an extra chromosome in the 21st pair which is the result of Nick having Down syndrome and later, an autism diagnosis that separates him from normal people. Having Nick as a brother has made me open my eyes to life in general and the traits that make me the man I am today.

Some of the earliest memories with Nick start from when I was around 5 years old. Being that young I did not fully understand why my brother was different but I accepted it because he is my brother.  I remember when I began getting older and going to elementary school when my mom and brother would pick me up and drop me off at school. Nick would be doing his normal sound making and hand clapping in public that would sometimes embarrass me in front of my peers. I also recall the times at the old California house we had where Nick and I would start messing around and wrestling with each other but then Nick would take it seriously and start pinching me. His ways of fighting back around that time were much less harmful than it is now when he has one of his meltdowns or I like to call them “monkey boy” episodes. These memories are some examples of tough things in which I have had to deal with in which growing up with my brother.

Hank and Nick at San Francisco Bay….

It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention a horribly embarrassing time.   Back around my freshman year of high school, Nick and his respite worker and I all went to Arby’s for a late lunch. Once we got our food we sat down, Nick started to make loud and disgruntled sounds when we put his food in front of him. I told him to be quiet in a not so nice tone. Next thing you know he became furious and proceeded to throw his food and random objects like trays, sugar packets and salt shakers all over the place.  We tried to calm him down but he was at the point of no return (aka monkey boy.)   I went on to restrain him and he was pinching, kicking and biting, anything to hurt me.  Somehow we ended wrestling around on the ground and to the other people in the restaurant it must have looked like we were fighting.  This was awkward and embarrassing for me because I was much bigger than him.  I knew it didn’t look right. I just wanted to leave and never show my face again.

That was the worst, or well at least one of them!

 But, there are many traits to Nick.   For example, he is usually a very happy and silly kid who always has a grin on his face. That’s why people love him at school and of course our family despite what we deal with when relating to Nick. Also, even though Nick has autism it does not stop him from being a socially engaging little dude even though he can’t speak. He loves to get attention whether it is him trying to act cute or to negatively do something to get ours. For example if we do not pay Nick any attention for a while he might spray shaving cream over the stairs.

Some of the best memories I can recall having with my brother can be the times where he will just sit next to me on the couch and watch TV with me and just chill out. Also I love to see him dance intensely while listening to the music that I provide him which is usually hip-hop/rap. Basically whenever Nick is in a good mood and happy he always knows how to put a smile on myself and many others faces. Having Nick as a brother has taught me to be a very patient person. I think I got this trait from the numerous times I have had to babysit Nick throughout the years. Also I feel that I have a certain outlook on life after growing up with Nick. For instance, Nick is always happy about the smallest things and he’s the one who is mentally disabled. So how I’ve been trying to live my life is to the fullest and I’m always trying to be as positive as possible no matter what life throws at me.”

Hank and Nick at the Sox game this past weekend……

Oh how they have grown up since the days of past when they use to play sweetly on the living room floor.

My Dad always said they looked like innocent cubs wrestling on the ground… more…. 😉


Those peaceful days long faded as Nick became more frustrated… way to huge meltdowns as he became older.  I applaud Hank putting up with the challenging behaviors of having a brother with not only Down syndrome but also autism.   We did our best to provide support by taking him to sibling workshops along with having him read “The Sibling Slam Book” by Don Meyer.  This is an excellent resource of what it is REALLY like to have a brother or sister with special needs.  We carved out time to just spend with Hank (buddy days) so he wouldn’t feel like Nick, Down syndrome and later autism didn’t consume our family.  I am very proud of Hank and his relationship with his brother.

It has been a crazy, twisted road we have been on but let me just say this….While the sibling relationship takes on a different form with a special needs child, there is no doubt that the bond is there.  I wish that Hank and Nick could have conversations, play video games and throw a baseball like most brothers do.  But that was not meant to be. One thing for certain is that there is a connectedness and love between them.  Last fall Hank took off for NIU. How did I know that Nick missed him?  He walked around with this picture in his hands, never letting it go even as he used the bathroom 🙂

Brotherly love is evident.  That is what is in my noggin this week.  Until next Monday, may your short week be full of love and connections spoken or unspoken.


***Special thanks to my son, Hank my guest blogger extraordinaire 🙂



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

One thought on “Blog # 9~ Brotherly Love

  1. TJ. This answers a question i didn’t even realize I wanted to ask: How is Hank with Nick? Thanks for sharing and expanding my horizon. I enjoy reading your blog.

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