Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Blog #97~ Being Nick’s Peer Partner


Blog #97~Being Nick’s Peer Partner

This week, I am very excited to share this piece written by Ryan Solomon.  Ryan was Nick’s peer partner at Metea Valley High School.  The Peer Partner Program operates in conjunction with the Adapted Physical Education Department.  It allows selected students the opportunity to provide mentorship to students with a variety of abilities.  Ryan’s experience with Nick, (who has Down syndrome and autism) inspired him to write this essay for college consideration. 

Essay by Ryan Solomon:

“My application lists my three–‐sport varsity achievements –including all–‐conference and all–‐academic in soccer, basketball and baseball.  You might think I’m a competitive, insensitive jock. So, you may find it ironic that I applied to “opt out” of PE class. Two years ago I was selected as a “Peer Partner” with 26 other students to assist special needs students in Adaptive PE.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience – especially last year. I’ve learned that I am sensitive and caring from my yearlong association with a person that has had a significant influence on me, my “Best Buddy” Nick Unnerstall.

Nick is severely mentally challenged and barely able to speak. Last year, when I was “peer partnered” to swim with Nick, I was afraid it would be a daunting task. Before we met, I expected to see a sad child scared of the school’s enormous swimming pool.  Instead, when I got to the pool, Nick, wearing his floaters, jumped in fearlessly.  We swam together the entire period.  The look on his face was refreshing–‐full of curiosity and wonder.  His smile beamed ear to ear.  The instructor thought it would be difficult for me to handle Nick daily -from preparing to swim, swimming and getting him to class –but that was not the case!  Her concerns disappeared as Nick and I bonded nearly instantly.  We showed up excited to swim every day.  Swimming was the one thing that Nick looked forward to each day.

After class I’d help Nick to lunch.  We’d just smile even though no words were shared.  Simple motions and expressions allowed us to communicate.  This daily routine put my life into perspective.  I used to think it was tough having homework and a game on the same night; dealing with a sports injury; or getting caught up with drama among friends.  None of this compares to what Nick goes through every day and for the rest of his life.

Through Nick, I’ve learned to appreciate all that I am able to do and have learned not to take anything for granted.  Before Nick, I believed I deserved starting positions in sports, or recognition and respect from my peers regardless of my actions. I put myself in his shoes and can see the adversity Nick faces each day from trying to be understood to struggling to get down the hallway crowded with students.  I now realize no one deserves anything without hard work. Although I believe I work hard athletically and academically, it does not compare to the Nick’s challenge to speak or get in and out of the pool.  Now, I work hard at being a compassionate and caring person.

Because of Nick, I am thoughtful of what I say and do.  I have become much more aware of those around me.  Nick shows me there is more to my life than academics and athletics.  With Nick and Peer Partners, hard work, compassion and caring helps me help others.”

Ryan and Nick 🙂

Peer Partners

Reading this essay warmed my heart.  As his mom, it is wonderful to know that Nick has made a difference in Ryan’s life and no doubt many others.  Ryan just finished his sophomore year at The University of Illinois.  I would like to thank him for sharing his story of working with Nick.

That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂






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

10 thoughts on “Blog #97~ Being Nick’s Peer Partner

  1. Very inspirational essay. Sounds like Nick added a lot more than academic knowledge to Ryan’s education. I can’t help believe Ryan will deepen his awareness as he matures through life. How wonderful that he got to meet and bond with Nick.

  2. Beautiful essay – we have so much to learn from one another – compassion and genuine care for others can teach us who we truly are – inside and out.

  3. What a beautiful story. It warmed my heart as the tears ran down my face. These are two very special young men. Nick’s influence on Ryan will guarantee Ryan will make a great contribution to this world. Although we don’t know God’s plans for us, we sometimes see a little glimpse. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you for reading Brenda, and glad that you found this story so powerful as I did. We don’t know God’s plan, but you are right… we see glimpses that moves us deeply and to tears at times. 🙂

    1. Thank you Erica, yes when we share lives it’s amazing how we learn and grow with each other. Glad you enjoyed the essay from Ryan. Always nice to hear from you. Thank you for reading and your feedback, Erica! 🙂

  4. Thank you Teresa, for sharing your son with us. Sometimes we all need to be reminded of the inspiration that each of us gives to one another. This is one of those times that we need to put our lives into perspective. Both Ryan and I thank you for the timing of your thoughts and words. Robin and Ryan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s