Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Education and Special Needs

Blog #186~Down syndrome:How to Promote Inclusiveness in School

Blog #186~Down syndrome: How to Promote Inclusiveness in School

DSAwarenessMagnet     Peer Partners

October is Down syndrome Awareness Month.  This is an ideal time to promote inclusiveness in your child’s school.  Forming a partnership with your child’s education team is the key to a successful inclusion experience.

Here are a few resources and suggestions on how to advocate for inclusion in your child’s school environment and classroom:

*Send an “All About Me” introduction about your child to the teacher.  There are many ideas, templates and apps that are available online.  This is especially helpful, if your child’s speech is limited or non-verbal.

all about me app

*Share inclusion resources with your child’s teacher:

  • Meaningful Inclusion for Students With Down Syndrome: A Resource for Elementary Educators. http://www.mdsc.org/infojustforyou/EdManual.cfm
  • The Inclusive Class: http://www.theinclusiveclass.com/
  • Inclusion in the Classroom-Tips and Resources: http://allbornin.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/Inclusion_Classroom_Tips.pdf
  • Donate books to the library and classroom:               I can Can you  Paint the Octopus Red  My Friend has DS

*Topics on Down Syndrome, that are helpful for teaching from Woodbine House Publishing: http://www.woodbinehouse.com/  Books related to Down syndrome are ON SALE during the month of October!

Whole Child Reading         Down syndrome and autism intersect2      Teaching Math to DS        fine motor skills and DS

Working with the school team to promote an understanding about Down syndrome, and a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism has many benefits.  It will help students in general education classes feel less anxious and reduce misconceptions they may have had.  Building this bridge together, will lead to a meaningful learning experience for everyone in the school.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan), Parenting Special Needs

Special Needs Back to School Tips

Special Needs Back to School Tips

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Kleenex, glue sticks, crayons, and more, are all jotted down on the shopping list.  It’s that time of year to get ready to go back to school.  But what should you be doing as a parent of a child with special needs?  I’ve got 5 great tips to get you started on the right track!

5 Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents:

Click here to view these 5 tips- https://nickspecialneeds.com/2016/08/22/blog-153special-needs-back-to-school-tips/

Make it a great school year, that’s what is in my noggin this week!

~Teresa 🙂

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

Blog #173~ IEP’s and Advocating for Your Child

Blog #173~ IEP’s and Advocating for Your Child

IEP-Picture

It’s the merry month of May, or IEP season for parents who have a child with special needs.  How do you advocate to get what your child is entitled to?  IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan. The IDEA law, ensures that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.”

This purpose should drive the needs of your child, because it is neccessary for them to be prepared for further education, employment, and independent living”.  In the case of my son, Nick having Down syndrome and autism, he is unable to work and live independently.  However through the years, his IEP goals, and supports have focused on his abilities to do everything possible to work towards this purpose and what is realistic for him upon completion of school at age 22.

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So back to my first question….. How do you get what your child is entitled to?

There are three things that you can do as a parent to advocate for your child.  These include providing parent input, examine & evaluating your child’s current IEP, and building goals based upon your child’s strengths.

Parent input should include what you want to see your child doing towards the purpose of “preparing them for further education, employment and independent living”. 

*What academic goals can you put in place now that will drive them to be more independent in the future?

*How will your child interact with other peers and staff in social situations?

*How will your child do with social skills when out in public?

*What methods of communication will be used for your child to express themselves?

nick aac

The second way you can best advocate for your child is to evaluate their current IEP.  Take a hard look at each section including your child’s level of functioning, academic achievements, goals, special education & related services and accommodations.  The focus should be on what your child CAN do with measurable goals.  What supports and modifications are needed to assist your child?  Does your child need a visual schedule?  Is there any equipment or sensory related items that are needed to help with learning and navigating the building?  Will their be a shared or 1:1 aide provided for your child if they need additional support?

If your child is not making any progress on a goal, then it needs to be looked at.  For instance a goal of tying shoes may need more support and visuals from the occupational therapists.  Then again, is the goal of tying shoes going to be important in another 5 years, or can you make another accommodation, move on and work on a different goal?

shoelaces

Once you have re-evaluated your child’s current IEP, schedule a meeting with the support teacher/ case manager to review your findings and decide on what goals would be best for your child moving forward.  I would also suggest sending an email to the classroom teacher, therapists, and social worker to get their input on re-vamping the goals.  This should all be done at least a month before the scheduled IEP meeting.

Be sure and request the proposed draft of the new IEP, including all reports from each team members, along with the goals proposed for your review BEFORE the actual meeting.  This will insure that you are an informed member of the team, and be a vital part of the decision making process.

goals

Goals should always build upon their strengths.  My son was never interested in writing  Any marker or pen given to him ended up with scribbles all over his clothing and skin.  Nick was just not motivated by any goal to write.  But what he was really good at matching.  Many of his academic goals were driven by using supports that involved matching.  So instead of writing Nick, the support teacher made a worksheet where he would cut out the letters N-I-C-K and glue them under a template.  This allowed Nick to work on name recognition and cutting skills.  This is a great example of modifying the curriculum to suit the level of student functioning.

Another example is money handling skills.  Nick’s goal in elementary school was to work on the “dollar over” method.  If an item was $1.49, he would count out two dollars (one dollar + one more dollar for change back).

dollar bills

Later in high school, the goal was changed to using an ATM card (which is what most people use in society today).

Taking on the role of advocate for your child insures that they your child will get what they are entitled under the IDEA law.  Preparing yourself with vital parent input, examining & evaluating their current IEP, and working with the teacher to build goals that promote learning and independence will result in a solid education plan for your child, and their future success.  In closing I will add this last point, that your child’s IEP should be constructed on your child’s unique needs, and NOT what the school district says they can offer and afford.   That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

IEP2

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Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Education and Special Needs, Feeding, Personal Hygiene, Toileting, Parenting Special Needs, Resources for Special Needs

Blog #164~Why Use a Visual Schedule?

doctor-checkup

Blog #164~Why Use a Visual Schedule?

We all hate getting lost, it can be aggravating  and nervewracking. That’s why we use maps to help navigate our way.

mapquest

The same is true for a child with special needs who lacks verbal and cognitive skills.  Providing a visual schedule allows your child to see what is going to happen in their day. My son, Nick is 22 years old and has Down syndrome and autism. Visual schedules provide many benefits for him to travel smoothly, through his daily routine.

Nick fist bump AID

Benefits of Using a Visual Schedule:

*Provides structure and predictability by showing a child what is coming up next.  This greatly reduces anxiety and builds confidence.

*Helps with transitions from one activity to the next.

*Picture form is easier to understand than verbal instructions.  Children with autism often comprehend pictures and/or written directions easier than verbal cues alone.

*Helps to teach sequence of events especially when using words, “first”, “next”, and “last”.

*Expedites learning routines and fosters independence in self-help/hygiene skills and household/school jobs.

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*Helps with time management and literacy development by reading through pictures and words associated with them.

*Improves conversation skills by giving a visual framework of what they did and what was their favorite part of the end of the day.

*Assists teachers and caregivers with routine changes, when things get out of sync.  It also helps to introduce a new and/or different activity.

dentist-checkup-visual

Visual schedules come in all shapes and forms and many are available in Google images.  You can adjust the length and type of images, (PECS-Picture Exchange System, photos, written words,  iPad/ smart phone apps) to what your child will most easily understand.

first-then-app

It’s best to start with a small routine and adapt the schedules based on your child’s needs and abilities. Try pairing a non-preferred activity (first) followed by a preferred choice (next).  Your child’s speech therapist can be of great help in creating picture sequences that would fit their needs.

Going through a visual schedule with your child, helps them understand what is going to happen, and what behavior you expect.

Here is one we use when going to the mall.  Note the visual below has going to the stores (first)  and Taco Bell (next) as the preferred activity.

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Sequence for going to church:

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Full Day Schedule: ( Note, this could be broken up in separate pieces if this would be to overwhelming).

visual-schedule-for-a-day

Using visual schedules have been shown to be helpful for children and adults with special needs by giving them more control on what goes on in their daily lives.  It provides the road map to navigate for a smooth ride through their daily routines.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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

Blog #157~Making Inclusion Work

Blog #157~Making Inclusion Work

Is inclusion right for your child?  That was the question I addressed in last week’s post.  Inclusion simply stated, means that a student is supported in the general education classroom setting with given supports outlined in the IEP.  The IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, is a document for special education students.  This document identifies how the student will learn, what services the school will provide, and how their progress is measured.  My son Nick, was in an inclusion classroom during his elementary school years. He has Down syndrome and autism, and benefited greatly from the experience.  How do you make the inclusion setting work for your child with special needs?

The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), amended version 2004, does not actually list the word inclusion. The law actually requires that children with disabilities be educated in the “least restrictive environment appropriate” to meet their “unique needs.” The “least restrictive environment” typically means placement in the regular education classroom which typically means ‘Inclusion’ when ever possible. (Source taken from about.com)

The IEP team works with the parents to determine the least restrictive environment and builds the placement around this concept.  What will the child need to be successful in a regular education classroom?   The IEP team and parents should collaborate to identify supports needed.

Classroom Supports:

*Modified Curriculum:  (Regular education teacher and support/case manager) work together to adapt the current assignments for the child.  Make a plan to address what will be learned in the regular classroom, and how will the student will learn that similar information?

visual work board

*Staffing:  Does the child need a paraprofessional (classroom aide)?  What is the ratio? What additional training will be needed?

*Equipment:  Physical environment (modified desk, chair, adaptive equipment/school supplies, sensory supports)

*Assistive Technology:  Communication (Alternative Augmentative Communication “AAC” device, Picture Exchange Communication System “PECS”, Sign Language/Interpreter), or other devices using apps for to navigate schedules and assignments.

alphabet tracing  ipad-touch-chat

*Sensory Breaks: What space will be provided, is there a sensory area in the school?  How will the student request a break (need a break icon, button on AAC device)?  What equipment is needed, (noise cancelling head phones, figit toys, nubby cushion, music, weighted vest or blanket, bean bag chair, swing, trampoline)?

figit toys   nubby therapy cushion

In addition to identifying classroom supports, the team should address these questions at the IEP Meeting:

* What are the student’s strengths, and how do we build a plan around them?

*How does the student learn best?

*What behavior support is needed to help the student learn the best, and operate comfortably in the general education classroom?

Identifying supports needed and how to best accommodate the student will set a good foundation to success in the inclusion classroom setting.  The student will benefit by having access to the general curriculum and build social relationships in this community in the least restrictive, inclusion environment.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

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Posted in Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Education and Special Needs

Blog #156~Is Inclusion For Your Child?

Blog #156~Is Inclusion For Your Child?

Are you raising or involved with educating a child with special needs within an inclusion setting?  Perhaps you are considering  an inclusion classroom for your child.  If so, then THIS is the book you need to read:

whos-the-slow-learner

Who’s The Slow Learner? A Chronicle of Inclusion & Exclusion, written by Sandra Assimotos McElwee (Outskirts Press) is a great book and and resource on inclusion.   Her son Sean McElwee was born with Down syndrome.  Sean is now 22 years old and is one of the star cast members of the Emmy Award Winning series, Born This Way on A&E.  

Her goal for writing this book was to educate and inspire, while chronicling her son’s education experiences.  In Sandra’s words, “This is not a ‘How-to’ book, but a ‘How we did it’ book.”

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is a term which expresses commitment to educate each child, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend.  It involves brining the support services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than having to keep up with the other students).  Proponents of inclusion generally favor newer forms of education service delivery.

Full Inclusion means that all students, regardless of handicapping condition of severity, will be in a regular classroom/program full time.  All services must be taken to the child in that setting.  

(From Sandra’s book this information was taken from the Wisconsin Educational Council’s Website)

Inclusion not only benefits the special education student, but also the regular education students in class.  It can be highly successful with the right supports, accommodations, modifications and supportive school staff.  From my own experience, I found this to be the case with my son Nick, who is also 22 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.

Sandra offers a wealth of information in this book.  Each chapter begins with all Sean’s IEP goals for that school year.  The book is loaded with great ideas on how to navigate the school system and how/when to reach out for outside help using consultants to advocate for your child.  This was the case when Sean transitioned into intermediate school, where they determined a need to put a behavior support plan in the IEP.  Sandra provides this full behavior support plan in the book as well, which is very beneficial.  Getting outside support for communication and behavior also helped greatly during the adolescent years with my son, Nick. Keeping in the loop with staff and volunteering in the school and classroom is another great way to keep up with how your child is doing in school.

There are so many valuable lessons that Sandra learned and shares about her son’s educational journey.  Many of which I can relate to having gone through this with my son, Nick.  You are not always going to have a school team or some of the members supporting inclusion for your child.  Sometimes it’s the school staff that are the slow learners.  In this book, you can see how Sandra had to advocate even harder during the intermediate and high school years. Unfortunately this was not always a success. But these actions set the foundation, to make it easier for other families to follow.

The book not only contains a wealth of education information, but many funny and inspiring stories on how Sean touched so many lives.  In one story, Sandra gets out of the shower and noticed the unmistakable odor of popcorn being microwaved.  She fully expected to smell a burnt popcorn next, so she hustled quickly downstairs.  To her surprise, Sean had just opened a perfectly cooked bag of popcorn.  She asked Sean what number he pushed?  Sean looked at her like she was crazy, and pointed to the control panel and said “popcorn”.  It turned out that the all the site words Sean had been learning in first grade were working. Sandra didn’t even know there was a popcorn button on the panel.  In this case she, was the slow learner.

Who’s The Slow Learner? is not just for parents, but a great resource for educators, future regular & special education teachers, school administrators and advocates.  This is the first book that chronicles a student with special education needs from pre-school to high school graduation.  It’s a very instructive book that shows a mother’s determination to advocate for the best available resources in not always a cooperative educational system.

I’m sure this book will benefit many considering inclusion for their child with special needs, and the education team that will be providing for them. That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

Catch Sean and his family on the Emmy Winning Series, A&E’s Born This Way, Tuesday nights at 9pm (8pm Central)!

Trump_Key_Art_Premiere_FIN.indd

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Posted in Autism, Education and Special Needs, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan)

Blog #153~Special Needs Back to School Tips

Blog #153~Special Needs Back to School Tips

For the first time in 22 years, I don’t have to buy school supplies for my son.  Nick is 22 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  He aged out of school on his birthday last February.   He attends an adult day program, which he enjoys immensely.  After 22 years I’ve learned a few tricks for getting back to school smoothly with your child that has special needs:

Back to school helpful tips

 5 Special Needs Back to School Tips

1.Look over your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) before school begins.  The IEP outlines academic and functional goals, supports needed, accommodations and services.  Reach out to your child’s case manager/IEP coordinator or Support Teacher, and ask specifically how these will be implemented, and how data will be tracked.

2. Arrange a visit to the classroom before school begins.  Request that a social story (pictures or video); be made of the settings that your child will be in at school, (classroom, lunch room, gym, sensory area, etc.).  If possible have the social story include pictures of support staff and classroom peers. If a child with autism can see it in picture and/or written form, they will better understand it.  This in turn, becomes their blueprint which; will lesson anxiety levels for your child.

Social Story for Back to School:

back to school Nick

3.During the classroom meet and greet, arrange a mode of communication with your child’s teacher.  In the past I have used both email and a communication notebook which goes back and forth.  Since my son is for the most part non-verbal, so this allowed me to share if Nick had a restless night or was maybe he was fixated on fire alarms. (By the way,  he’s been at it again. He pulled a few more alarms this summer, while staff was on vacation. Check the “About” Page for the current pull count).

Communication Book and Daily Activity Chart:

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4.Start Early! Get school supplies, clothes and shoes shopping done and haircut at least a week before the start of school.  Having a child with special needs often means a lot of angst over haircuts.  For Nick the stress of getting one can affect him for several days after.  If you would like more tips on haircuts, hit the search box on the top right of this page.  Type in: Blog #18, A Cut Above. The night before school starts, have your child help lay out the clothes, organize the school supplies and pick out lunch/snack choices.  It’s all about having a smooth start to the day and this helps especially at six o’clock in the morning.  One thing that was NEVER EARLY; the school bus.  Make sure you have carved out your schedule accordingly and have something for your child to do while you wait.  On average, we’ve waited 30-45 minutes for the bus to get to our house the first few days of school.

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5.Consider doing volunteer work at your child’s school.  It is fun and you can see firsthand how your child is doing in the classroom.

Here are a few school volunteer ideas:

*Holiday Parties

*Art Awareness Presenter

*Chaperone Field Trips

*Field Days

*Picture Day

*Work book fairs

*Library aid

*Special Olympics Practices

*Assist Case Manager/ Support Teacher- Making copies, laminating, helping to create classroom supports.

Nick and I wish you all the best as you start the new school year with your child that has special needs.  Be cognizant of what is in the IEP, follow-up with communication, layout the blueprint for your child and get organized.  That’s the recipe for a smooth start to the new school year.  Oh, and don’t forget to take that cute first day of school picture and post it on Facebook.  That’s what is in my noggin this week!

~Teresa

Nick’s First Day of Kindergarten, 1999……

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

Blog #145~Hitting Milestones, Moving On

Blog #145~Hitting Milestones, Moving On

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This weekend we had a big milestone.  Nick’s brother Hank, graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in Marketing and a minor in Communication.  Nick is 22 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  He recently reached his own milestone, finishing up the Post-Secondary transition program.  Nick now attends an adult day program.  He has a full day with activities including on site activities, community trips, vocational jobs (recycling, cleaning both on site and at a local church), and working a food pantry).  He keeps busy and is very happy in this new program.

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On the way to the NIU campus, we passed by his old high school. I pointed MVHS out to Nick and he instantly replied and signed, “All done”.  My niece, Anna, their Grandpa Jim, and I were astonished.  Nick recognized that he had been there, done that and had moved on.

Nick at MVHS graduation a few years ago, held at NIU Convocation Center…

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The mood in the NIU Convocation Center was festive.  Nick swayed back and forth in his seat to the music of the steel drum band jamming in the background. I’ve never heard the Pomp and Circumstance played quite like this.  Instead of getting teary eyed as I normally would, it felt more like a delightful celebration.

NIU Steel  Drum Band=Awesome!

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Nick was very patient and kept quiet through all the speeches.  It was a lovely day, and a proud moment for the whole family. Nick’s Dad was full of pride, as he is an alum of NIU and also a marketing major.

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Nick looks like he is eyeing an alarm in this picture, doesn’t he?  He didn’t pull one on graduation day (whew)!  But, he did get another last Friday at his adult day program site.

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Current count=36 fire alarm pulls.

At last, both of my sons are done with school and moving onto their adult lives.  My wish is for Hank and Nick is for them to feel productive, contribute to society, and be happy in all they do.  I am very proud of my guys.  It was a good day at sea.  That’s what’s in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

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

3 Scary Letters: IEP

3 Scary Letters: IEP

brace yourself IEP

Hey parents, is it time for your child’s  IEP meeting?  Are you armed and ready?  After 22 years with my son Nick who has Down syndrome and autism, I’ve learned a few things.  IEP meetings don’t have to be scary.  Click here to find out how you can be ready for one:

@ https://nickspecialneeds.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/blog-8-3-letters/

Please leave me a comment if you have any questions or need support.  I am here to help!  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

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Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #136~Nick Turns 22

Blog #136~Nick Turns 22

I got a bit choked up buying these candles the other day.  What is the significance of 22?  That is the birthday in which a child with special needs ages out of the school system and enters the adult world.  My son Nick, has Down syndrome and autism.  Yesterday was his 22nd birthday.

22 candles.jpg

Last Friday was Nick’s last day in school.  They celebrated his birthday and wished him good luck….

22 birthday cake.jpg

Make a wish Big Guy! 🙂

22 wish

Nick had a wonderful experience in his Post-Secondary Transition Program (STEPS).  It was hard to say goodbye.  The cord has been cut, and the little yellow bus made it’s final stop to the door……..

bus last day.jpg

Nick’s birthday celebration continued over the weekend with family at Mr. Benny’s Restaurant in Frankfort. Nick enjoyed a nice steak dinner and another round of singing Happy Birthday.  We celebrated both Nick and his Dad’s (which is the day before his).

22 Nick and Dad

Yesterday (Nick’s actual birthday), we made a run to the border.  Oh happy day! 🙂

22 nick taco bell

Nick had a great time and we thank you all for the well wishes. We look forward to sharing the new adventures that lie ahead.  Nick started his new adult day program full time today. The fire alarm pull count is at 34 since third grade, but for how long?  Cheers to you Nick, for making us smile and keeping our reflexes razor sharp.   That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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