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, 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 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


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-

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

~Teresa 🙂

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Posted in Behavior/ ABA, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan)

Blog #179~Down syndrome and Autism-Unlocking Your Child’s Potential

Blog #179~Down syndrome and Autism-Unlocking Your Child’s Potential

When your child has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, the game changes.  Speech may be limited or even non-verbal, which may lead to behavior problems.  Sensory issues can be extreme and interfere with social interactions and learning.  My son, Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  His speech is limited, and he is a sensory seeker.  Over the years, with the help of some amazing teachers, therapists, and autism behaviorist specialists, he has developed skills which have allowed him to contribute both working in his adult day program, and here at home.

So how do you find the key to unlock your child’s potential?

padlock-unlocked_318-40940The key lies in identifying your child’s strengths, and working to build upon them.  First of all, just because my son’s speech is limited doesn’t mean he can’t communicate.  One of Nick’s assets is his receptive language, which is the ability to understand information.  Many of his goals in his IEP (Individualized Education Plan), were planned around using this strength when he was in school.  Nick was able to develop skills to become more independent in self-help, and other jobs both at home and school.  These skills were enhanced by using educational materials and supports that were written into his IEP.  Such materials included a PECS book (Picture Exchange Communication System) with training for staff, parents and child, Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices,  task strips, social stories, a picture schedule, video modeling, and a reward system.  All of these supports helped Nick to navigate his routine and built upon his functional and independent livings skills.

APE swimming 006 (4)

Besides his receptive language, Nick’s other strengths are his desire to please and take the initiative.  He is a taskmaster!  When Nick was younger, his teachers pointed out how good he was at matching.  A lot of his goals were structured around this.  Nick has always had a keen eye, and notices where everything goes around the house.  Anytime the batteries died on one of his musical toys, he would go to the kitchen drawer, pull out the screwdriver and hand it to me with the toy.  As he grew older, I recall him nudging his older brother over to help unload the dishwasher.  He knew which cabinet every single plate, cup, pot, pan and utensil were stored.  Shortly thereafter, I let him take over the chore (with no complaints from his older brother, Hank). 🙂

Nick still takes great pride in unloading the dishwasher today!

Nick dishwasher two

Here are some other ways the taskmaster takes initiative:

Nick getting out ingredients and utensils for his salad….

Nick dinner prep

As soon as he saw the pan of water on the stove, he went to the pantry and pulled out the ingredients to make pasta…..

Nick past cooking

Using his strength of taking the initiative, we have built upon this to create other jobs both at home and in the community.  When he was in school, his teachers recognized his sensory seeking needs and channeled them by doing “heavy work”.  An occupational therapist can assist with ideas to implement a sensory diet into your child’s routine. Nick likes to throw and swipe things (and still does).  It has helped to find activities with heavy work or that mimic this sensory need.

Here are a few of the jobs that does:

*Recycling (replacement behavior for throwing)

*Can crushing (sensory and motor activity and replacement behavior for throwing)

*Carry laundry basket and load washing machine (heavy work/ organizing)

*Put away groceries (organizing activity)

*Empty Dishwasher (organizing and sensory activity)

*Cleaning/ wiping down countertops and windows (organizing activity)

*Vacuuming (heavy work which is calming)

Nick working at a residence facility in high school….

Nick vacumming_Tabor Hills (3)

Nick doing volunteer work at GiGi’s playhouse with in his current adult day program…


There is so much your child can learn when you identify their strengths and unique talents.  When you find what motivates your child, you can build and expand upon it.  Work with your child’s IEP team, therapists and autism specialist, to identify those areas.  Then together as a team, create a plan with specific and measurable goals, that will enable your child to grow and be successful.  Unlock your child’s potential, and watch them soar!  That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂


Follow Nick:

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Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall



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


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.


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?


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 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.



Follow Nick:

Facebook & 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 #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

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.


Follow Nick:


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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:

photo (117)

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.

photo (113)

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!


Nick’s First Day of Kindergarten, 1999……


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

Blog #152~Lessons From Olympian Simone Biles

Blog #152~Lessons From Olympian Simone Biles

After winning individual gold in the women’s gymnastics all-around on Thursday, Simone Bile’s, in an interview, made a declaration. “I’m not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps,” she said. “I’m the first Simone Biles.”

Simone Biles

Before going to teach spinning class last week, I was rushing around the house getting ready.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the Good Morning America interview featuring gold medalist, Simone Biles at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.  It struck me that this pint-sized, power house had 4 training tips that packed a lot of punch. I grabbed my coffee, pen and pad to jot down a few bullet points.

Having a child with special needs presents many obstacles in life.  I’ve had my share of them with my son Nick, for the past 22 years.  Nick has Down syndrome and autism.  The low muscle tone (a trait of having Down syndrome) delayed him from reaching gross motor milestones until much later than most babies.  He didn’t sit up until a year old, and he didn’t walk until he was 3 ½ years old.  Nick had to work a lot harder to hit those targets with years of physical therapy.  We’ve also spent 22 years going to speech and occupational therapy to help feeding, communication along with fine motor, sensory issues.

It has been quite a journey, which brings me back to those bullet points I scribbled down.  In the Good Morning America interview, Simone offered up some advice on her training regimen.  They are 4 simple lessons, and my take on they apply to raising a child with special needs:

  1. Enjoy the Ride

The journey isn’t always going to be easy.  It’s going to take a lot of hard work and shedding tears.  And that’s to be expected.  But, find a way to embrace the journey.  Have some fun as you go, and surround yourself with people who make you laugh.

  1. Never Give Up

There will be days, weeks and months where you see no progress.  Sometimes mistakes will be made.  That’s when you pick yourself up and trust that you can do it no matter what.

  1. Trust Your Squad

The fierce five huddled, cheered each other on, and believed in other.  When you have a child with special needs, you have to get a good squad together to help push them to succeed.  This includes the IEP team along with outside therapists.  Huddle in from time to time, and always keep the lines of communication open.  Make sure all the goals and dreams for your child are in sync.  Parents should have their own squad of friends and support groups you feel comfortable with.  Your squad understands the insurmountable pressure faced when raising a child with special needs.

Fab 5 Rio

4. Treat Yourself

After a competition, Simone (whether she wins or not) enjoys pepperoni pizza.  Parents of special needs kids spend a lot more time and energy helping their child reach goals.  It is beyond exhausting. Get a respite worker to watch your child.  Find the things that you enjoy and indulge.  Go out to lunch with girlfriends, get a manicure, go workout, take a trip to Target (alone), enjoy a nap, have a glass of wine.  Treat yourself, you deserve it.

That’s great advice from the 19-year-old Olympian champion.   Life will always have it ups and downs, twists and turns.  But if you can find a way to embrace the journey, you can hit the top of that podium and be the champion of your own life and your child’s.

Nick wins the gold for the softball throw at the State Special Olympics~2003

Nick Special Olympics


That’s what is in my noggin this week.


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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:


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.


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@Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

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

Blog #135~Final Week in School

Blog #135~Final Week in School

This is Nick’s last week to be in school.  His 22nd birthday is almost here.  Then, the little yellow bus stops coming to the door.  My son Nick, has Down syndrome and autism.  He is aging out of the school system and will enter the adult world.  For the past few months we have been working with his current school and the adult day program he will be attending.  Nick has been at the new program part time for the past few weeks and the transition is going well. All the pieces seem to be in place.

It’s been an amazing journey watching Nick grow and learn.  The times have been joyous and triumphant, while often frustrating and heartbreaking.  Today I want to pause and give credit to all of the teachers, case managers, aides, therapists, bus drivers and school district personnel and respite workers that have helped along the way.

Nick started at the Klein School District (in Texas) at just 8 weeks old.  This early intervention program had a wonderful staff and therapists.  They worked to strengthen his low muscle tone (a trait of having Down syndrome).  When Nick was nearly 3 years old and not walking yet I said to his physical therapist, “I don’t think Nick is ever going to walk”.  To which she replied, “I have never met a child with Down syndrome who hasn’t walked yet”.  And you know what she was right.  Nick did eventually walk at age 3 1/2! 🙂

After age 3, Nick attended the early childhood program at the Arbor School in Houston.  He made so many gains with the combined co-treatment therapies offered by Texas Children’s Hospital.  Not only did he start to walk, he learned how to chew solid food without choking.

We moved outside the San Francisco Bay area when Nick was 4 years old.  I can’t begin to thank the Down syndrome Connection support group along with his therapists, Kendra his Kacy at Learning on the Move.  I learned ways to incorporate a sensory diet for Nick, and how to become an advocate for my son.


In 2001, we moved outside the Chicago area.  During his elementary years Nick was in a full inclusion classroom.  This worked because of the excellent help provided by his support teacher, along with dedicated teachers, aides and therapists.  It was during this time that Nick’s academic goals shifted to more functional goals in his IEP.  While this was heartbreaking, I remember gaining strength in what his support teacher said.  At the beginning of his IEP meeting in 4th grade Sylvia said,  “Nick has a lot of strengths and we need to focus on those”.


Nick also began to get private speech and OT at Suburban Pediatric Therapies.  He has learned so much and developed a great relationship with all the staff at this clinic. 🙂

Nick loves to work with Brian…..

Brian and Nick

The middle school years were rough for Nick.  Having the diagnosis of autism along with Down syndrome was a mixed cocktail with a bad taste of frustration (due to lack of speech). This lead to meltdowns and destructive behaviors.  The shift led back to a self-contained classroom.  I don’t think we could have survived this time without the support of NADS (National Down Syndrome Association) and Little Friends Center for Autism.  I learned how to manage the autism component with their help.  Getting support is crucial in a crisis situation as this was.  I also give a lot of credit to his support teacher Jess (aka “The Nick Whisperer”).  She believed in his capabilities, understood him and made the last years of middle school a success.

High school was a self-contained setting.  It was during this time I saw Nick mature and handle his behaviors much better.  He took pride in his vocational jobs both in school and out in the community.  I appreciate all the staff that worked with him and helped him grow during that time.

Working at Re-Store Habitat for Humanity with Ms. R….

Nick packaging door knobs_Habitat for Humanity (6)

Working at Tabor Hills Residential Community…..

Nick vacumming_Tabor Hills (3)

Nick Senior Portrait….


After Nick graduated from high school he attended a post-secondary transition program (STEPS) where he continued to hone his vocational skills, had work jobs and community trips.  He has enjoyed this program immensely!  A big thank you for the staff at STEPS for helping Nick navigate his jobs, teaching him new skills, working to make his AAC talker device be a success and assisting with the transition to the adult day program he will start full time next week.

Nick on a delivery run job…..

Nick delivery

This journey with Nick has been a wonderful and wild ride, 34 fire alarm pulls and all!   I am grateful to all who have worked with Nick and touched our lives.  Truly, you all have been angels lighting the path along Nick’s way.  That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂


Follow Nick:


@ #nickdsautism


@Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism