Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs

Blog #130~Documentary “Graduating Peter”

Blog #130~ Documentary “Graduating Peter”

Over the weekend, I watched a documentary on HBO called “Graduating Peter”.   Actually I’ve seen it before many years ago, but have a new perspective on it now that my son is older. My son Nick is 21 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  The original documentary which won an Academy Award in 1992 was “Educating Peter”.  Peter Gwazdauskas, a special needs boy with Down syndrome, was the first student to go into the inclusion classroom in his school district.  Federal law states that special needs students should be educated with regularly developing students in traditional schools. Peter’s first half of the school year was not going well, (due to behaviors such as making loud noises, rolling around on the floor, and being injurious towards other students in class).  But he made improvements and gained acceptance as time went on.

Peter in elementary school in Blacksburg, Virginia….


In the sequel “Graduating Peter” (2001), the journey continues from middle school until high school graduation.   The adolescence environment was not as accepting of his behaviors (like grabbing another student’s roll at lunch and throwing it at him).  His spoken language skills were limited.  He had no way to express how he feels and it came out in his behaviors.  The isolation from peers led to Peter suffering through depression.  During the school day, Peter had aides with him in school because he cannot function well due to his disabilities.  He also had several jobs during the time (sweeping mass transit buses, dishwashing at a hotel restaurant, doing laundry at school, etc…).  In the summer, his mom hired an aide to continue to work on community interaction and job skills. I loved seeing Peter’s face light up when he rode the roller coaster at a peer buddy program event.   In addition, he becomes the manager of the high school soccer team. He beamed with pride having a deep sense of friendship with his teammates.  Peter makes them understand there are bigger issues in life than just soccer.  In his senior year, he escorts a date to the prom and graduates with his class!

Peter at high school graduation….


My son Nick would have no part of the graduation hat and tassel……


Peter’s mom did a great job as his advocate.  She understood her son and realized that his lack of spoken language was his biggest disorder.  Her desire was for Peter to live in the community as independently as possible and to have a meaningful job that he enjoys along with maintaining friendships.  I understand her plight.  My desire for my son is the same.  Nick has the hurdle of autism along with Down syndrome.  This limits his chances of having a paid job in the future and living independently.  Nonetheless, Nick takes pride in the work he does at school and home.

Nick unloaded the dishwasher unsupervised last night. A bit topsy turvy but everything in the proper place…….


As I posted on the update last Monday, Nick has many jobs and leisure activities in the community thanks to some wonderful respite workers! 🙂  Here’s Nick making a delivery run to a school. In the boxes are home made ice packs they assembled in his STEPS program he attends….

Nick delivery

Keeping those  community outlets open, providing communication supports and a good staff can help a child with disabilities lead a full and meaningful life.  The documentary “Graduating Peter” while showing the struggles of living with Down syndrome also sheds a light on how important relationships are.  Positive peer relationships can help a person with special needs feel accepted and thrive in the community.  That’s what in my noggin this week. 🙂


***IMPORTANT NOTE:  Set your DVR’s for Tues. Dec. 8th 10/9central on A&E don’t miss “Born This Way”–7 Adults with Down Syndrome share their lives.  Check out my Facebook page called “Down syndrome with a Slice of Autism to see the preview!


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 #130~Documentary “Graduating Peter”

  1. Thank you for participating in A&E’s Born This Way.
    The stars of the show are beautiful souls. Thank you for telling your story.
    Thank you for blessing the world with your presence!

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