Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Blog #200~World Down Syndrome Day

Blog #200~World Down Syndrome Day

“World Down Syndrome Day is Wednesday, March 21, 2018 and its purpose is to raise awareness around the world of what Down syndrome is and the vital role people with Down syndrome play in our society. The day has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012 and the date — always on the 21st day of the 3rd month — is meant to highlight the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome, which is the cause of Down syndrome.”

World Down-Syndrome-Day

World Down Syndrome Day is an opportunity for all of us to promote awareness, understanding and inclusion.  Lack of knowledge and understanding can prevent people with Down syndrome from being accepted and included in society.  The message is simple, every individual is unique, we all have value, and everyone has the right to live a happy and fulfilling life.  I heard a great quote the other day, “Down syndrome is just another way that humanity presents itself”.  


So, how can we promote awareness, understanding, inclusion and acceptance? 

Three Easy Ways To Promote World Down Syndrome Day:

1. Promote Down syndrome awareness on social media.  Rock your funky socks and T-shirts.  Let’s see them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Share inspiring, beautiful pictures, stories and videos of individuals with Down syndrome.  Tell us how an individual with Down syndrome has affected your life. Use hashtags, here are a few suggestions-  #wdsd #downsyndrome #321 #abilities #inclusion #funkysocks #downsyndromerocks #PROVETHEMWRONG

Nick Prove Them Wrong

My son Nick (pictured above) is 24 years old, and has Down syndrome and autism.  We’ve joined Noah’s Dad-Down syndrome awareness in their campaign #PROVETHEMWRONG.  More information at

2. Educate others about Down syndrome and encourage the use of person first language.  This means saying, “a person or individual with Down syndrome”.

Do NOT say:
* “A Down syndrome baby, child or kid.”
* “Down’s baby, child or kid”
* “Down’s”
* “He or she has Downs”

3. Encourage inclusion in your community.  What opportunities are available for meaningful jobs, volunteer work and other contributions for individuals with Down syndrome?  Are there any fundraisers like the Buddy Walk, funky sock campaign or other local DS support group activities, that you could get involved in?  Adults teens and children can volunteer to help with programs like the Special Olympics, Best Buddies peer program, and GiGi’s Playhouse.

Nick volunteering at GiGi’s Playhouse…..


Here’s an amazing business:  Bitty & Beau’s Coffee is more than just a place to grab a cup of coffee – it’s an experience. While the shop is run by people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and the customers love the products, they really come in for the unique customer service experience……..

bitty and beau coffee shop

Promoting awareness on social media, educating others about Down syndrome to use person first language, and finding inclusion opportunities are three great ways you can  support World Down Syndrome Day 3/21/18!  Help others to gain a better understanding, acceptance and inclusion for individuals with Down syndrome.  Let’s look past the diagnosis and see the uniqueness of each individual and their vital role to our society.  I can’t wait to see your posts on social media and rocking those funky socks for WDSD 2018!

We Help Two funky socks available at ………

That’s what is in my noggin this week!

~Teresa 🙂

Follow Nick on Social Media:

 Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism 

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall











Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Education and Special Needs, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan)

Blog #199~Take Action Before the School Year Ends

Blog #199~Take Action Before the School Year Ends

How’s the school year going?  If you have a child with special needs; who is non-verbal or limited in speech, it’s difficult to know how they are navigating their day.  This is where you as the parent, have to be pro-active regarding your child’s progress.  Are they achieving the goals set in their Individual Education Plan (IEP)?  As a parent of a child with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, I’ve learned the importance of staying on top of my son’s progress and behavior while in school.  Mid-year is a critical time to re-evaluate the teaching methods and current goals set in place, to help your child succeed.

Here are five things parents can do now, to take action before the school year ends:

#1 How are you communicating with the school staff?

If you child is non-verbal or limited in speech, it’s imperative to find a way to dispatch information daily via email, text and/or a communication notebook.  Daily reports work can be created and customized to share about your child’s day, like these……

daily check sheet   daily check sheet two

#2 Organize all correspondence with the school and staff.

Use one notebook or binder for all meetings, conferences and IEP’s so you can refer back at anytime.  Keep all documents in this binder regarding your child, so it’s at your fingertips.  Log in dates and times of any correspondence with school.  Keep all school emails in a separate folder, on your computer.

#3 Review your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).

The IEP outlines academic and functional goals, supports needed, accommodations and services. Compare the current IEP goals to the quarterly reports.  How much progress has your child made in each goal area?  Are there any red flags (No Progress- NP)?  Make notes of your concerns.  What additional supports or accommodations that might better help your child succeed?

Examples of supports and accommodations:

Ex/ Halls or assemblies are crowded and loud.  The student experiences sensory overload, leading to meltdowns.  Add supports and accommodations such as noise cancelling headphones paired with a break card.  Have the child transition five minutes before the bell rings when the halls are quiet.

Break Icon   noise cancelling headphones

Ex/ Student shuts down to avoids a task, because it is too difficult.  Break down the task into individual steps supported with a visual task strip.  Set them up for success!

counting task strip       Nick packaging door knobs_Habitat_4 (2)

#4 Contact your child’s teacher to discuss ways to keep your child on track for the rest of the school year.

Request a meeting with the IEP team if there are setbacks in behavior, or “No Progress” (NP) being made on IEP goals.  Goals and the behavior plan can be adjusted anytime during the school year.  A meeting may be necessary if there are any new behavior problems that need to be addressed.

Ex/ Student needs motivation to complete work.  Create an incentive chart to work and earn a reward.  Brainstorm with the school staff to find a reward that is highly motivating for the student.  This  particular reward should only available upon completion of tasks.

working for chart

Ex/ Student has difficulties transitioning to the  next activity.  Make visual schedules for the student to navigate their daily routine.  Giving the student control with visuals, will help to reduce anxiety, and foster independent living skills.

APE swimming 006 (4)

Visual timers help a student stay on task, and then transition to the next activity….

visual timer app

#5 Look at the big picture of your child’s current growth and well-being.

Are the current goals ultimately promoting your child’s further education, employment and independent living?  Are the goals meaningful and relevant for their level of performance?

Does your child look forward to going to school each day?  Are there any signs that your child is withdrawing or regressing in performance and behavior?

Make notes and meet with the teacher at any time before the next IEP meeting. Collaborte together with the school IEP team, to make adjustments and accommodations as needed regarding goals and behavior.


Consistent communication, organization, and IEP goal and behavior reviews, are essential for a parent to do, throughout the school year.  Collaboration with the school staff will ensure a strong finish, for the remaining semester.  This will also make team planning for the next school year much easier, with no surprises.

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


Follow Nick:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall



Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Down Syndrome Awareness, Spread the Word!

Down Syndrome Awareness, Spread the Word!

March is a significant month for raising awareness and acceptance for individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.  It is time that we as a society, do something to change the way people refer to individuals with special needs.  There are several campaigns and events this month, that I want to highlight!

spread the word 2018

“Spread the Word to End the Word is an ongoing effort to raise the consciousness of society about the dehumanizing and hurtful effects of the word “retard(ed)” and encourage people to pledge to stop using the R-word. The campaign is intended to get schools, communities and organizations to rally and pledge their support to help create communities of inclusion and acceptance for all people. Most people don’t think of this word as hate speech, but that’s exactly what it feels like to millions of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and friends. What started as a youth-led grassroots effort in 2009 by a small group of students with one simple call to action, has evolved to communities across the world not only taking the pledge, but challenging others to talk, think and write with respect.”

Click here and pledge to Spread the Word to End the Word:

spread the word tee shirt


Be sure and mark your calendar for March 21st, World Down Syndrome Day!

World Down-Syndrome-Day

“World Down Syndrome Day creates a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion and well-being of people with Down syndrome.  The mission is to promote awareness and understanding, seek international support, and to achieve dignity, equal rights and a better life for people with Down syndrome everywhere. The date for WDSD being the 21st day of the 3rd month, was selected to signify the uniqueness of the triplication (trisomy) of the 21st chromosome which causes Down syndrome.

Click here for more information about WDSD:

One of the trademarks of World Down Syndrome Day is rocking your fun, brightly colored, funky socks.  Last year I partnered with We Help Two for a fundraiser and awareness campaign.  Portions of the proceeds went to our local Down syndrome support group, the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS)  In addition, for every pair of socks sold, We Help Two gives a pair of thermal socks to donate to a local homeless shelter.


Last year, my son Nick and I raised over $500 for NADS and donated 59 pair of thermal socks to The Hessed House, a local homeless shelter.  The campaign was super easy to set up and promote on social media, with minimal time as the host.

Nick and I donating We Help Two thermal socks to the Hessed House……….

Nick and Mom at Hessed House 2

To order or host your own Rock your Funky Socks for WDSD click here:

Order socks to directly benefit NADS fundraiser click here:

Check out the brand new styles offered this year, by We Help Two :)………



One more campaign I want to showcase is led by Noah’s Dad, called #Prove Them Wrong. 

“It’s awesome to see so many people with special needs proving to the world that what it may think about them is wrong! We see so many of your children are doing awesome things as well! We want to invite you to be a part of a fun new campaign we’re doing called the #PROVETHEMWRONG campaign and show the world how your children are doing that! I’m going to be making a video for World Down Syndrome Day and I want you / your family in it!” -Noah’s Dad


For more information about #PROVETHEMWRONG click here:

Our dream as a community of advocates for those living with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is to live in a world where everyone feels respected, loved accepted and appreciated.  Let’s get out there and spread the word this month and make a difference for the future!

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall












Posted in Adult Day Programs for Special Needs, Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Fun Side of Nick, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Winter Update: Nick DS-ASD

Winter Update: Nick DS-ASD

Here’s a look at Nick’s world, and what he’s been up to this winter.  My son Nick, is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  He attends an adult day program which provides a variety of enrichment activities.  These include work time, communication and learning, recreation, cooking, gardening and crafting.  There are monthly theme parties and game time playing Bingo and Yahtzee.  His group enjoyed a variety of community trips to the grocery store, dining out, library and PetSmart.

Nick relaxing at his adult day program….

Nick AID new chair

Turtle time…..

Nick AID turtle

Crafting, Nick made some awesome pillows…..

Bingo Prize Winner!

Nick bingo prize

Community trip to PetSmart……

Nick Petsmart 1              Nick Petsmart 2

Each week, Nick goes on community outings with his respite caregivers, Jodi and Miss R.  They take him out to the movies, library, mall and to restaurants…..

Over the holidays, Nick celebrated with family here in Chicago and in Key West……

Nick Christmas 2017

Fun in the Florida Keys, including a trip to The Hemingway House……

In February, we celebrated Nick’s birthday in Vail.  Did you read last week’s blog #198, about his adventures in Colorado?

It’s been a busy winter packed with loads of fun for Nick!  Seeing all his smiles in the adult day program, community outings and on vacations assures me that he is having a wonderful life.  Having a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism shouldn’t limit a family from getting out and having fun.  I hope these updates bring inspiration to other families who have a child with special needs.

That’s what is in my noggin this week!

~Teresa 🙂

To see more of Nick’s world check out these social media sites:

Facebook: @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall





Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Government/Legal Matters Related to Special Needs, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan)

Blog #195~ Being a Firestarter

Blog #195~ Being a Firestarter

What is the difference between those bold enough to pursue their dreams and others who never get comfortable enough to ignite their lives? The doers are “Firestarters” and, because of them, the world is a much different, and often, better place.


Are you looking for a way to ignite your life and dreams?  Firestarters-How Innovators, Instigators and Initiators Can Inspire You To Ignite Your Own Life,  is a new book released last week; that will help you to do so. As I wrote in last week’s Blog #194, Firestarters are innovators, instigators and initiators that get things accomplished.  Recently I had the opportunity to interview one of the co-authors of this new and powerful book, Paul Eder along with a featured Firestarter, David Egan who is an advocate for special needs.  This week, I am sharing more on these interviews about being FIRESTARTERS!


David Egan is the first person with an intellectual disability to be awarded a Joseph P. Kennedy JR. Public Policy Fellowship, he made history by working on Capitol Hill with the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee.  David Egan, born with Down syndrome, is a trailblazer for others who have intellectual disabilities.

David Egan-Advocate Photo

He believes in promoting the idea of people with disabilities having special talents.  David states that people with intellectual disabilities should be included in as many sectors of our society as possible, and being featured as a leader in this book makes made him proud.  The most important part of his advocacy is to demonstrate that people like himself are Valued, Able, and Ready to work.

David Egan Work Photo         David Egan swimming

“We are citizens that matter and we belong in our community.” -David Egan


“People with intellectual disabilities do not want pity; we want respect, inclusion, and the opportunity to reach our full potential like any other citizen.” -David Egan

Paul Eder is the co-author of Firestarters along with Raoul Davis JR. and Kathy Palokoff.  From early on, Paul Eder wanted the book to be inclusive.  He has a 6-year old son, Brady who has Down syndrome and believes his potential is limitless.  Paul says that a Firestarter is partially defined by the impact you have on others. His son, Brady has certainly impacted his life.  Paul hopes his son’s achievements go beyond and push the boundaries like David Egan.

I asked Paul how he plans to use the concept of Firestarters to help navigate his son through school and working with IEP team members? 

Paul said that, “The IEP (Individualized Education Plan),  generally taps into a number of the concepts we discuss in the Firestarters book, but the section on Accelerants is very relevant. Accelerants include: Mission-focused behavior, Cooperation, Constructive competition, sweat equity (working hard), and support seeking.”

Paul goes on to further state this about IEP’s:

“An IEP certainly focuses on the mission surrounding your child’s educational path. From a cooperation perspective, the IEP defies all the supporting partnerships that are necessary to propel his success.  All of the IEP goals are measurable, which gives it a competitive flair. We want the goals to be challenging but not impossible, and we want to be able to compare his progress against some standard of success (e.g., grade-level expectations). My son has a daily behavior log where his social and academic behaviors are tracked. From this sheet, we are able to tell whether he is putting in his full effort and devoting the sweat equity needed to learn. Support-seeking is an obvious one.”

“The IEP team is a support structure in itself.  As parents, we can’t be afraid to ask the questions needed of the team and push for the supports required to ensure his success.” -Paul Eder

I asked Paul how can someone support the Firestarters in their lives, especially those with potential but who may have special needs?

In the book we define 4 types of supporters based on the research we conducted:

1.Nurturers listen and help you follow through with your ideas.
2.Motivators get you moving. They are people like Tony Robbins who exude an energy that make you want to be a better person.
3.Illuminators are the teachers in your life who help you grow socially and intellectually.
4.Protectors are the people who defend you when others won’t.

A FIRESTARTER, seeks support to fan their flame, and finds ways to limit the influence of Extinguishers.

As we begin 2018, what do you want to accomplish?  Find the people who can support you and don’t allow the extinguishers to have power over your life.  We’ve all met FIRESTARTERS, and seen what they’ve accomplished.  They create, disrupt and start things.  The book FIRESTARTERS  interviewed successful entrepreneurs, CEO’s, organizational leaders, advocates and forward thinkers from a variety of professions to find out what makes them tick.  There are step by step guides to teach you how to join the ranks in whatever you want to accomplish.

For more information about FIRESTARTERS click here:

Thank you to Paul Eder and David Egan for sharing your inspiring stories of being FIRESTARTERS, who make the world a better place!  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂 





Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Government/Legal Matters Related to Special Needs

Blog #194~ Firestarters

Blog #194~ Firestarters

What is the difference between those bold enough to pursue their dreams and others who never get comfortable enough to ignite their lives? The doers are “Firestarters” and, because of them, the world is a much different, and often, better place.

Recently, one of the co-authors of a new and powerfully motivating book, Paul Eder reached out to me to do an exclusive interview about Firestarters- How Innovators, Instigators and Initiators Can Inspire You To Ignite Your Life.


There is a big difference between people who MAKE things happen and those who only THINK about making an impact.  So many people have dreams, yet few are willing to take action.  The authors of Firestarters set out to find the “secret sauce” providing pragmatic advice for readers to ignite the qualities from successful entrepreneurs, CEO’s, organizational leaders, advocates and forward thinkers from a variety of professions.  Co-Authors Raoul Davis JR., Kathy Palokoff and Paul Eder did extensive research interviewing and studying hundreds of people who have all been a catalyst for change.

In my interview with co-author Paul Eder, he states that a Firestarter is someone who makes an impact, someone who presses forward in the face of challenges that would cause others to run the other way.

There are 3 types of Firestarters in the book:

*Innovators create things.

*Instigators disrupt things.

*Initiators start things.

All three types are bonded together by the great impact they have on other people and the world by creating, disrupting and starting things.  So, how do you know if you’re an Innovator, Instigator, or an Initiator?  The book provides a quiz that you can take, but the short answer is to investigate both what motivates you and how you interact with others.

*Do you like to explore new ideas for the sake of exploring them? Do you come up with your own pet theories of how the world works? You may be an Innovator.

*Do others always call you out for debating too much? Do you strive to be different and do things in a way no one has done? You may an Instigator.

*Are you constantly moving? Do you have the energy of 10 thoroughbreds and need to sleep only 4 hours a night to be fully effective? You may be an Initiator.

Firestarters aren’t constrained to one type. Different situations may require you to act more like an Innovator. Others require you to be an Initiator and just get things done. Firestarters are amazing in that they are flexible to tap into all three types as needed – when most people would be more likely to stick to their default type, according to Paul.

From early on, Paul Eder wanted the book to be inclusive. He has a 6-year old son, Brady who has Down syndrome and believes his potential is limitless.  The Firestarters concept  applies to CEOs of mega corporations as well as PTA moms. There are interviews John Sculley, a former CEO of Apple and present his profile at a similar level of prominence of David Egan, who has Down syndrome and is a self-advocate who has single-handedly re-defined the perceived capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities.

David Egan is the first person with an intellectual disability to be awarded a Joseph P. Kennedy JR. Public Policy Fellowship, he made history by working on Capitol Hill with the Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee.


In my interview with David Egan, he showed great passion about being an advocate with an ongoing commitment that never ends. His dream is to help people with intellectual disabilities.  All of his jobs and activities have been very important. However, being  selected as the first person with intellectual disabilities to serve as a JP Kennedy JR. Public Policy fellow was an honor and a breakthrough.  Previous fellows were doctors, professors, parents, educators or with physical disabilities but David made history and is proud to follow in the vision of Eunice Shriver, the founder of Special Olympics. She believed that we belong and we have the same rights as any other citizen.

Paul Eder feels his 6-year old son Brady, who has Down syndrome will follow the path forged by David Egan, in not allowing a label to define his future. A diagnosis is not a destiny.  Down syndrome isn’t a determinant of his son’s potential.  This is a powerful message on never setting limits!  This message has resonated with me for the past 23 years in raising my son, Nick- who has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.

Next week, I will share more of my interviews with Paul and David with their great insights on being a Firestarter.  Here is a review of this book from Forbes magazine:  If you are looking for a way to set your goals in motion and take action for 2018, I highly suggest reading Firestarters!  

This book will be released tomorrow, January 9th, click here to learn more:


Is this the year you are going to MAKE things happen, or just think about it?  What things or people threaten to extinguish your fire?  Set your goals and be a Firestarter, that’s what is in my noggin this week.








Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Resources for Special Needs

Blog #192~Down syndrome-Autism: Green Monday Gift Ideas

Blog #192~Down syndrome-Autism:Green Monday Gift Ideas


It’s green Monday and just two weeks until Christmas.  Here are some gift ideas for individuals having Down syndrome (or a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, or other special needs) along with their caregivers, teachers/aids, and therapists.  Order T-shirts, hats and totes designed by artists with special needs

My son Nick, wearing a Paper Clouds Apparel shirt designed by Justin Lundeen…

nick fire truck shirt  Features the beautiful photography of artist, Geoffrey Mikol prints, framed art, calendars, coaster sets and greeting cards are available for purchase online….

Geoffrey Mikol picture    Geoffrey Mikol Kelly is a young entrepreneur who has Down syndrome.  She designs and makes fashionable jewelry you can order online….

special sparkle jewelry  Beautiful pottery (bowls, platters, plates, jewelry) by Christian Royal…..



One of the best gifts is an iPad and there are countless apps for learning and play.  If you are looking for a sturdy case, the Go Talk Rugged and Big Grip cases have held up the best…..  


If your child has sensory needs, and likes to do a lot of dropping, check out these toys:

vortx-dropping-coins  marble racemagic-tracks-mega-set-360-piece--A817AA38.zoom

Gifts ideas in located in the archives, type this in the search box: Blog #131~Christmas Ideas for a Child With Special Needs…..


Gift ideas for babies and toddlers with Down syndrome:

Noah’s Dad- Down syndrome Awareness Top 10 gifts for a 7 year old:

Books for caregivers and families, here are a few suggestions and there are more listed in this Blog #144~ Inspiring Books Related to Down syndrome located in the archives……


Gifts book cover    Book An Uncomplicated Life  down syndrome and autism intersect

Please feel free to share this, and any of my blogs with others and on social media.  Also, check out my Pinterest page for more gift recommendations and other helpful information. Do you have any gift suggestions? I’m always looking for unique gift ideas related to Down syndrome and autism to post on my website.  Nick and I wish you all the best as you are preparing to enjoy the holiday season.

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


Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall





Posted in Adult Day Programs for Special Needs, Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Fall Update: Nick DS-ASD

Fall Update: Nick DS-ASD

Time flies when you are having fun, and Nick is having a blast this fall.  My son, Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  He attends an adult day program which provides a wide variety of activities.  Community outings this fall included volunteer jobs, bowling, visits to local parks, fire station, grocery shopping and going out to eat.  His group also works in-house doing gardening, cooking, skill along with communication building using their Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices.  Nick uses a program called Touch Chat on an iPad for communication.

Nick cooking at his day program…..

Nick cooking meatballs

Nick was very excited to visit the fire station 🙂  He wasted no time buckling up right away….

Nick fire truck

Outside his adult day program, Nick enjoys community visits to the library, mall, parks, shopping, the movies and eating out.  He continues to have “date nights” meeting up with his buddy, Christopher.  We are very grateful to have such caring respite workers, to take him out several times each week.

Fun at the Halloween Store…..

Nick crown

Buddy Up Tennis, see Blog #190 to read all about it @

Nick buddy tennis 2

Nick relaxing at the library.  Make yourself at home there, Big Guy….. 🙂

Nick library

That’s Nick’s world and update for this fall.  I would like to take a moment to thank our respite workers, Lara, Jodi and Kelsey for all they do for Nick and our family.  My son has a full and rich life, and we are grateful to have these supports in place to make this possible.

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

~Teresa 🙂

Want to see more pictures of Nick?  We have a lot more on social media:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall



Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Blog #191~Challenging Behaviors: Why is My Child Acting This Way?

Blog #191~Challenging Behaviors: Why is My Child Acting This Way?


Parents raising a child with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism experience challenging behaviors from their children.  A long holiday weekend can heighten these behaviors with changes in routine and family gatherings.  A child may feel lost in the mix and in need of attention.  They may also experience sensory overload.  These can be shown in a variety of ways, such as increased self-stimulatory/ repetitive behaviors (hand flapping, tapping, turning on water faucets, pushing buttons, shutting or slamming doors),  self-injury (head banging, biting, slapping self), attacking others and property destruction to name a few.  This week I want to focus on WHY a child may be acting out.  When you understand why this might be happening, you can put a better plan in place, in order to support your child.

The first step is to determine what the behavior means.  All behavior is communicating something.  This is where you have to do some detective work.


Keeping a log of behaviors is a great tool to determine what purpose this is serving your child.  It’s helpful to use a Functional Behavior Assessment Form, such as this to gather data:

Functional Behavior Assessment

Data collection will assist you at home and the school IEP team on the who, what, where, when and why’s of the behavior.  What is this behavior trying to communicate?  What need is being expressed through these behaviors?  Is there a pattern of when these behaviors are occurring and what is triggering them?

Ultimately the Functional Behavior Assessment, (also known as a FBA) will reveal what the purpose this behavior serves for the child.  

Let’s put this to use with two behaviors often associated with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism:

*Self-stimulatory or Repetitive Behaviors

*Injurious Behaviors

In the case of self-stimulatory or repetitive behaviors, a child may:

  1. Need more stimulation
  2. Be trying to masking sensory overload
  3. Be upset, anxious or not busy enough

Observe your child, and maybe even try the behavior yourself in order to get an idea of why they are attracted to it.  Repetitive behaviors are often sensory based.  They help to calm and organize the nervous system by releasing stress chemicals.  This in turn can help to reduce anxiety.

My son, Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  He often uses tappers to help regulate his sensory needs.  Here he is at his adult day program:

Nick tappers AID

Bottom line, it’s important to respect these sensory needs and allow your child to have this time during the day.  Find a balance in building in these sensory breaks without letting them take over completely.  Self-stimulatory and repetitive behaviors should not  get in the way of learning, or in work jobs.  Keep in mind, especially around the holidays as you get busy with wrapping presents, cooking and cleaning the house that your child may be bored and feeling ignored.  It is necessary to provide some structured activities to reduce these behaviors.  I like to give my son jobs so he feels helpful, and rewarded for his appropriate behavior with lots of praise.  While I was getting the house ready for Thanksgiving, I had Nick vacuum for me, a job he enjoys doing.  It provides him with good sensory input using heavy work, which can be calming…

Nick vacumme thanksgiving

In the case of injurious behaviors a child may:

  1. Bang head, bite, slap themselves, attack others or destroy property
  2. Be frustrated, angry, experiencing discomfort, pain or sensory overload
  3. Communicate escaping and avoiding an unwanted task or event

Again, the Functional Behavior Assessment chart can help to determine if there is a certain activity, event or time of day which causes these behaviors to escalate.  As the detective, you want to uncover these triggers.  When you figure out these triggers, you can put supports in place to in essence, cut it off at the pass before your child goes into a full-blown meltdown.

Example- Family trip to the shopping mall:

The stimulus overload, especially around the holidays with added crowds,  more kiosks, noises, lights, and may be too much for a child with autism.  You many need to keep the trip short and provide visuals supports to help your child understand the sequence of events that will happen.

Task Strip for shopping mall trip….

task strip mall

Along with a visual schedule, you want to keep your eye open to any distress signals the child may exhibit in their body language.  My son will tend to pinch his cheeks when he is upset or stomp and say, “I’m mad”.  These signs are a cue to back off and lower the demands you are placing on your child.

In summation, you can support your child and prevent these injurious behaviors by:

  1. Recognizing distress signals and re-direct your child.
  2. Lowering or pulling away the demands that have been placed and causing your child to feel overwhelmed.
  3. Providing visual supports with task strips so they know the sequence of events.
  4. Teaching alternative ways to escape and unwanted situation by using visual supports with icons such as, “Stop” “Help” “All Done” and “I Need A Break”:Break Icon
  5. Practice teaching appropriate ways to protest separately in mild stress situations. Use the icons above either with visuals or on a communication device using lots of praise.

Understanding the function of your child’s behavior and creating an environment to support them will lead to success in both home, school and in the community.  If your child has challenging behaviors, seek the help of a trained autism behavior specialist.  You should request that a Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) be done.  Once this data is collected, a Behavior Support Plan (also known as a BSP) can be created and put in the IEP.   You and the school IEP team can brainstorm on what supports to put in place to help your child better succeed and express themselves more appropriately.

That’s what is in my noggin this week 🙂


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Posted in Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Blog #190~Nick & Buddy Up Tennis

Blog #190~ Nick & Buddy Up Tennis

I took my son Nick, to the Buddy Up Tennis program over the weekend.  Buddy Up Tennis is a high-energy, adaptive tennis and fitness program for children and young adults with Down syndrome.  They provide fun and rewarding 90-minute clinics on a weekly basis.  The program currently serves 550 individuals ages five to young adults with Down syndrome across the country.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure how cooperative Nick would be given that he has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  I am happy to report that he participated and followed directions fairly well, for his first time out.

Nick buddy tennis 2

This 90 minute Buddy Up Tennis-Naperville clinic, is held at Five Star Tennis Center.  Athletes are paired with a buddy and start off with a warm up.  Each participant gets to toss the dice and perform a variety of calisthenic exercises like toe touches, push-ups, jumping jacks and sit ups.  Nick needed some prompting on these.  I had to laugh when everyone got down to do push ups and Nick was still standing.  Then about the time he got down on all fours, the rest of the group was up doing jumping jacks. 🙂

fitness dice                Buddy Up Tennis Logo

After the warm-up, the participants break up into groups.  The younger kids use modified equipment and balls on a separate court.  The teens and young adults move to circuit training.  Stations are set up focus on balance, agility, hand-eye coordination and upper body movements that mimic tennis strokes and serves.

Nick navigated each station with prompts, praise and elbow bumps, from his buddies and coaches.  He moved at a slower pace than his peers, and there were a few stations he was less interested in.  But overall, did a good job!

Nick Buddy Tennis balance

After circuit training, the athletes worked on volleys and ground strokes.  Nick needed more prompting and hand over hand assistance, to move through these drills.  But he remained patient and compliant.  It really helped to have a peer partner and the coaches cheering him on, as well as the other athletes modeling appropriate behavior.

Nick buddy tennis

Towards the end of the clinic, Nick did begin to lose interest in hitting tennis balls.  I grabbed a ball hopper, and he and his peer buddy collected balls.  Nick is good at putting things away, so this kept him perked him up and engaged.  For the last 10 minutes, all the groups come together, and play a few rounds of duck, duck, goose. Then, the coaches present certificates to the top awesome athletes for that week.  Nick was awarded one of these for working hard.  Yay Big Guy! 🙂

Overall, I feel the experience was a success for Nick.  I was a little nervous going in, because he can be loud and distracting with the stimming behaviors associated with autism.  However, these behaviors were quite diminished during the clinic.  It reminded me of when Nick was in a full inclusion classroom, when we first moved into the Chicago area, 15 years ago.  Positive peer role models is one of the benefits of placing your child in full inclusion classroom.  When Nick was in a full inclusion classroom, the loud noises, tapping and other stimming decreased.  That alone, makes it worthwhile to enroll him in the next session coming up in January.

I plan on making a few visuals of the calisthenic exercises, circuit stations and sequence of moving through the drills will help with transitioning.  For individuals with autism, it helps to have a picture schedule to assist them in understanding what is expected of them.  If they can see it, they can better understand it.

Buddy Up Tennis is a wonderful program, and I’d like to thank the coaches and volunteers for the opportunity to have Nick be a part of group.  For more information about Buddy Up Tennis, visit their website at

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


Follow Nick:

Facebook & Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall