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

Blog #228~DS-ASD and Managing Stress as a Parent

Blog #228~DS-ASD and Managing Stress as a Parent

Let’s face it, parenting is stressful with all the demands that are draining on a daily basis.  Raising a child with special needs compounds this even further.  A child with an intellectual or developmental disability such as autism, Down syndrome or a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD) has even more demands, with living skills, communication and behavior.  These additional needs means the parent has to work even harder.  This can drain parents both physically and emotionally.  I have been dealing with this stress for 24 years, as my son Nick has a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD.  Here is what the stress looks like for a parent of a child with special needs, and some coping mechanisms to combat it.

stress ball

So what does stress look like for parents raising a child with special needs?  Yes, there are the usual demands of running the household, carpools, extra curricular activities and homework of the child and any siblings, but there is much more.  There are often additional therapy and medical appointments on the calendar each week.  Balancing this with all the other activities can be tricky, with someone feeling short-changed in the family.  As I mentioned earlier, a child with special needs may need additional help with daily living skills, communication and behavior management.  If a child is non-verbal or limited in speech, the parent may have to play the guessing game on what the child needs. Deficits in communication skills can often lead to behavior problems.  Maladaptive behaviors may prevent the family from doing activities, attending outside family gatherings and special events together.  One parent may opt to stay home with the child, which over time, may impact the marital relationship.  This also creates a sense of isolation.  All of this can lead to feelings of guilt by the parent, which is one of the biggest internal stressors.

So, how can you manage stress as a parent of a child with DS-ASD or any other intellectual or developmental disability?  Ideally, a parent would schedule a vacation or spa weekend getaway, right?  But what if you don’t have the time or resources for such an elaborate indulgence?

spa getaway

Stress Management in my opinion, begins with mindfulness.  Carving out a few minutes for yourself is key.  Dedicate a time where you can meditate.  Free your mind of all distractions and breathe deeply.  This will allow the heart rate and blood pressure to lower and reduce stress.  Last week, I had lunch with my niece, who recently returned from a spiritual cycling journey and yoga retreat overseas.  We talked about the concept of truly being present in the moment.  The focus can be as simple as being aware of your senses……..

Step outside notice how the sun and warm breeze feel on your face. 

Quiet yourself and enjoy the texture and taste of each bit while you eat.  Take in the aroma and softness against your fingers, as you bite into the pita bread.

Listen and feel how the snow crunches under your feet, take in the cool air and watch as you exhale, seeing your breath rise up into the blue sky.

Sit silently, maybe with your child or pet, feel the softness and listen to your breaths.  Do nothing,  just be as one.

Put on your favorite music.  Focus on the beat, various musical instruments, vocal tones, and harmonies.  Note the meaning of the lyrics, and how it all  feels to your body, mind and soul.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the moment that you are in right now, and freeing yourself from worry.  Spending time in the present and focusing on your senses, will allow you to feel less tense.

Pairing mindfulness with gratitude cancels out negative thoughts and worries.  Some days can be challenging and exhausting.  In those times, remind yourself that there is always something or someone to be grateful for.  Showing gratitude can boost morale for  yourself and others.

Taking time to get physical activity in daily can greatly reduces the effects that stress can take on the body.  Even small bursts of exercise, taking a fitness class or a walk around the block can make a difference on how you feel.

It is also important to reach out and share what is going on with friends, family and support groups.  Isolation can be debilitating.  Sharing your struggles can give you a fresh perspective.  There is much to be gained in finding a support group of like-minded individuals who are on a similar path.  In the DS-ASD world, we share success stories, challenges of our child’s delays, and difficult behaviors.  We offer suggestions on how to find a better way to manage the unique challenges associated with our kids and applaud the milestones they hit.  When you share your struggles, (and do so with a dose of humor), you don’t feel alone anymore.  That can be a powerful thing.

Reducing stress doesn’t have to be a big, fancy trip or getaway.  Taking time to exercise mindfulness, gratitude, doing some type of physical activity, and opening yourself up to others, are all simple ways to reduce anxiety.  Allowing people to come in your life for support, will help make difficulties more manageable. Most of all, it’s essential to take some time and find ways to relax your mind. This allows you to re-charge and lessen the degree to which stress can affect the body and mind.

let yourself rest

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

~Teresa

Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest at Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Blog #227~Ditch the New Year’s Resolutions, Here’s a Better Idea

Blog #227~Ditch the New Year’s Resolutions, Here’s a Better Idea

How many times have you made a new year’s resolution and failed to reach it?

new-year-resolutions-825x549

New Year’s resolutions can be daunting and difficult to keep.  This year, I am changing  my tune.  I’ve adopted a new principle personally and for my son, Nick who is 24 years old, and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  As a fitness professional for 35 years, my job is to motivate, challenge and inspire my clients.  Being fit and healthy isn’t just about eating right and exercising.  To feel your best, you must take care of the mind, body and spirit collectively.  As a parent of a child with special needs, there are more demands, that can wear on you both physically and emotionally.  It is essential to take care of your physical and mental needs to reduce stress and avoid burning yourself out.

mind body spirit

I was listening to a Sirius XM radio interview with Teddi Mellencamp (yes the daughter of John Mellencamp), who is an accountability coach. She gave a better alternative, instead of making new year’s resolutions.  Teddi suggested that you pick 3 things each day that will take care of you personally, and hold yourself accountable.  Write them down, and try it for just 5 days.  These should be centered around helping you to feel better, both physically and emotionally.  By doing this, you begin to create good habits, that leads to confidence, and ultimately changing your lifestyle.

So, I tried it by writing down 2 things each day (3 seemed too much with my busy schedule).  Here are a few things I did:

*Cleaner eating- Replace Sun Chips with almonds and make a chicken wrap with only avocado and lettuce.

*Relax, stretch and be mindful of breathing to relax and calm the body,

*Bump up home workout weights from 10 to 12 pounds.

*Be mindful of the gratitude you receive throughout the day

*Eat an extra piece of fruit.

*Turn off the TV and listen to music I enjoy.

*Be compassionate, smile at a stranger and do random acts of kindness.

*Drink one less cup of coffee and replace with more water.

*Go upstairs, every time I needed something, instead of waiting until things have accumulated.  (This increased my steps significantly).

*Apply one of the principles of Feng Shui.  De-clutter home and clean 8+ years of dust off the high cabinets to increase the flow of chi energy.

*Pray more throughout the day.

*Shop on the outer edges of the grocery store as much as possible. (This is where the nutrient dense, clean and less processed foods are located).

*Respond, and don’t react with anger.

*Meditate for 10 minutes.

I have to say, there is a feeling of personal accomplishment when you hold yourself accountable, and do just 2 things a day to promote personal health both physically and emotionally.

relax

As a fitness professional, here’s what I suggest on how to start a new fitness program.  Don’t set yourself up for failure. Replace the resolution of going to go to the gym 5 days a week with a more reasonable goal. Change the mindset to, doing some physical activity 3-5 days a week.  If you can’t make it to the gym, or you are too tired, then get out and walk or do some calisthenics for just 10 minutes.  Add an extra minute to each workout.  It will all add up, and you will build confidence and feel less guilty.  Break it down to smaller pieces and you will set yourself up for success! 🙂

This got me thinking that maybe I should apply this principle with my son, Nick who has Down syndrome and autism.  Being a parent, we often feel like we are not doing enough to help our child learn and develop skills.  Blame it on housework, our jobs, time schedules/demands, and just plain exhaustion which leads to feelings of guilt.  So, I am going to just focus on one thing that will help my son be more independent each day.

I started yesterday, by encouraging Nick to use his AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device.  Nick successfully used it to request breakfast and lunch, along with a few other highly preferred rewards he enjoys.

Today, I will continue to focus on Nick using his AAC device by requesting foods and after dinner getting him to ask to take a shower.  These are little steps, but they can add up and enable my son to realize the power of using his voice, via his talker.  I have to constantly remind myself to be disciplined with not only myself, but with my son.  Ultimately, our goal as parents is to guide our children to be as independent as possible and in the process, help them gain more confidence as individuals.

Saying goodbye to New Year’s resolutions, that are often impossible to keep for 365 days, feels liberating.  Shifting the mindset to smaller goals is more realistic.  Little changes add up to building healthy habits.  It will help you feel better physically and emotionally each day.  Plus, it’s attainable and a more reasonable approach to making positive changes.  Breaking things down into smaller pieces is a better way to have success, and build confidence gradually and consistently.  It also allows you to let go of the feelings of guilt that you aren’t doing enough for yourself and your family. I would love to hear your ideas 2-3 things you might add to improve your mind, body and spirit each day!

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, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #226~DS-ASD and Being on Holiday High Alert

Blog #226~DS-ASD and Being on Holiday High Alert

The Christmas tree has been taken down, and all the decorations are packed away.  Now I can let out a sigh of relief.  The three celebrations both before, during and after Christmas with our families, were action packed.  We stand on guard, watching for signs of stress that might trigger a meltdown or other undesirable behaviors.  Our son Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD).  The sensory overload of noise, crowds, overstimulation, and changes in routine all make for a dangerous cocktail living in the world of autism.

One thing that I have learned navigating Nick’s world with a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD is that you can’t let your guard down, EVER!  So was the case over the holidays, which for the most part, went smoothly.  Christmas eve while in route to mass, Nick rattled off a stream of swear words that could rival any salty, crusty sailor.  While the rest of the congregation was praying for good health and world peace, I prayed that Nick wouldn’t drop a G-D bomb in those moments of silence and genuflection.  Thank God, he settled down and was quiet during the service.

nick 2018 christmas

After Christmas we headed down to Texas to celebrate with my family. Our flight down to Houston was smooth.  We even take him into  the of the United Club these days. Yes, there were crowds, but Nick knows the drill and loves going places, so he is motivated to be compliant.

Nick cruising through his favorite part of Chicago O’Hare Airport….

nick at o'hare

Once we reached the condos, the first thing we all noticed was every single floor of the three-story building had a fire alarm next to each stairwell.  It was a land mind of red buttons, just begging for Nick to pull them.  All hands were on deck for the next few days. We all worked together securing blockers, reminding Nick, with the compliance command, “Hands to self, big guys keep on walking”.  He was definitely staring them all down as we passed each one during our stay.

On the second day of our visit, we arranged to take family photos at a local winery.  Nick has never been a fan of these type of photo ops. Sitting patiently for photos irritates him.  Afterwards, we did a wine tasting and the kids ate some appetizers.  There was no structure to the afternoon, just a family enjoying each other’s company.  Nick grew restless, and while no one was paying attention to him.  So, he spiked a wine glass, shattering it all over the concrete floor.  As the staff member swept up the mess, Nick tossed his brother’s marinara sauce in the same direction.  The red sauce splattered all over the staff worker’s jeans as he swept up the shards of glass.  I apologized profusely and explained that Nick had Down syndrome and autism.  It’s at this juncture, that I knew that we had to get him out fast, before things escalated into a full meltdown.  There is no reasoning with Nick at this point, so a few of us did a cut and run, to get him back to the condo.

Later that evening, the whole family gathered into one condo so the grandkids could open their Christmas gifts.  While I was sorting out and distributing the gifts, a familiar sound blasted from outside.  I jumped up and made a beeline out the door to look for Nick.  I made my way downstairs in a panic, alerting the other patrons that it was a false alarm.  I didn’t know where Nick had run to, and it terrified me.  But thankfully, he was waiting at the bottom of the stairs with his eyes glazed at the blazing alarms and lights blinking.  I have no idea if my son pushed more than one alarm.  I yelled up to Al to call the front desk and let them know it was a false alarm.  Meanwhile, I grabbed Nick’s hand and walked a good 200 feet away, so he wouldn’t get the reinforcement he craved.  My hands shook as I asked Siri on my iPhone, for the number to the Conroe Fire Department, located nearest the resort.  But then, a calm focus came over me, as I explained to the firefighter about my son and his penchant for pulling alarms.  The gentleman was very understanding and kind over the phone.  Fortunately, I caught them in time, so they did not dispatch a firetruck, whew!

That was #54 on fire alarm pulls for Nick since 3rd grade…….

firelite-pull-station

Bottom line, this is a reminder that our immediate family can never let our guard down, EVER.  It’s easy to get lulled into the fun and festivities, and get caught up in the moment.  But that’s the moment, that Nick can wreak havoc, in just a split second.  We can’t expect extended family members to understand Nick’s impulses in the way we do.  My husband, Al and older son Hank have a system of checks and balances in place when taking care of Nick.  One of us always has at least one eye on him at all times, especially in new environments.  We are the primary caregivers, and ultimately are responsible for Nick.  Sometimes we screw up in life, and we did that day.  But, you just have to learn from it and move on.

While Nick can give us all a run for our money at times, he also has a way of showing his pure heart.  On this trip he got to meet his new cousins Greyson and Gannon who are twins.  The twins are a year old, and Gannon has Down syndrome.  Nick was drawn to Gannon and the bond was clearly evident.  Nick was very gentle around him.  As my niece, Courtney was packing up the boys to leave, Nick bent down and gently loved on Gannon.  My family looked on and in the silence, Nick brought us all to tears. 🙂

 

My Niece, Courtney is the mom of four boys and wasted no time in becoming a great advocate for Down syndrome.  This is a blog I wrote last March about Courtney’s journey, @ https://nickspecialneeds.com/?s=Down+Syndrome+A+New+Beginning

Christmas holidays while fun, can be stressful for all of us.  Having a child with special needs creates more challenges with more noise, crowds, overstimulation, and changes in routine causing sensory overload.  This holiday was a reminder for our immediate family to stay vigilant, and remain on watch at all times.  The responsibilities of being a caregiver for a child with a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD is staggering and should never be taken lightly.  Now, I’m going to exhale, learn from my mistakes and keep pushing forward.  As 2019 begins, my mindset will attempt to shift from holiday stress to a calm, warm, and cozy winter peace.  I wish you all the same for the new year.

snowman in hot chocolate

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, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #218~Special Needs Parents,What We Need From a Friend

Blog #218~Special Needs Parents, What We Need From A Friend

Parenting a child with special needs can be lonely.  Having a support system is crucial to maintain a positive well-being.  Uncomfortable situations, surrounded by raising a child with special needs, make it difficult for people to know how to help as a friend.  My son Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  My close friends keep me sane, make me laugh and understand what I go through.  As a parent of a child with special needs, here is what we need from a friend.

Friendship Beatles

We need a friend to understand.  Parenting a child with special needs is a constant battle with schools, doctors, insurance companies, and daily behavior challenges at home.  Add sleep deprivation to the mix, and you have one cranky parent at times.  Imagine starting your day off, washing sheets and cleaning excrement off the wall and carpet of your child’s bedroom.  In this code brown emergency, your child goes downstairs and dumps out your freshly brewed coffee all over the kitchen floor.  This is a page out of my story some 15 years ago.  It’s the story of so many parents dealing a child who has Down syndrome and/or autism.  We rely on our friends to listen without judgement, and to understand the pressure and challenges we deal with everyday.  The best of friends, roll up their sleeves and pitch in.

hands and heart pic

One vacation in New Braunfels, Texas, my son got hold of my make up bag and made a huge Picasso mess on the bed sheets in the rental house we shared with friends.  My friend Sally, poured us a glass of wine, and jumped right in scrubbing the stains with me as we laughed at the absurdity of the moment.

A good friend, says “Tell me what I can do” instead of “Call me if you need help”.

As special needs parents, we need our friends to listen and understand that sometimes our world is so complicated, that we may have to decline invitations or cancel at the last-minute.  But please, don’t stop inviting us, sometimes we just need more lead time in order to secure a caregiver for our child.  Other times, our child may be having a bad day or meltdown and we just can’t get out of the house.

babysitter for autism

As a parent of a child with special needs, we also crave normal conversations.  Sometimes we are stuck at home, with our kids.  Please, don’t worry so much about us being too busy.  A simple text goes a long way, as does dropping by for a cup of coffee or glass of wine.  Honestly, when I can focus on my friends problems and help them out, it makes me forget my own and feel much better.  I treasure the moments with my friends, when we can dish about everyday life and share a few laughs together.  Every Thursday, we power walking together.  We vent, cuss, laugh and have normal girl talk.  It restores our sanity! 🙂  

friends therapy

A parent of a child with special needs, relies on friends that stand with us!  They listen, understand and share together with us.  We can’t do it alone, and our friendships sustain and keep us strong.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Follow Nick:

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, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #213~Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents

Blog #213~Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents

There are a few more areas to consider when sending a child with special needs back to school.  Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities may not be able to understand change and transitions related to school.  The student’s language skills may be limited and they might have difficulty expressing emotions.  This can all lead to anxiety which can result in behavior problems.  You can help your child by planning ahead, getting organized and putting visual supports in place for the new school year. Here are 5 tips to ensure a smooth start to the new school year for your child with special needs.

backtoschool94

5 Back to School Tips for Special Needs Parents:

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.  If there is a Behavior Support Plan (BSP), review it, and make sure that all staff members working with your child have as well.  Note anything that might need to be tweaked in both plans, and share with the school staff.

2. Arrange a visit to the classroom before school begins.  Provide a profile/resume sheet about your child for the staff, containing any information that will help them understand their likes, dislikes, behavior and communication concerns.  Look for visual supports and a schedule posted in the classroom to enhance learning and understanding.  You can 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.).  It also helps to include pictures of support staff and classroom peers (if possible), in the social story. If a child with autism can see it in picture and/or written form, they will better understand it.  Visual supports, social stories and schedules all act as blueprints to help your child navigate their day.  This will help them understand what is expected and occur, leading to reduced anxiety levels for your child.  The support teacher/ case manager can make these for you to read with your child before school starts.

Social Story for Back to School:

 

 

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, texting and a communication notebook which goes back and forth.  My son, Nick has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  His verbal language skills are limited.  The communication notebook gives the child a voice that describes what their day has been like at school, and how they are doing at home.  This is especially helpful, if your child didn’t sleep well, and you can give the teacher a head’s up, to incorporate more breaks in the day if needed.  In addition to a communication notebook, the teacher can create a custom daily report to share with parents.  Depending on the skill level of your child, words or pictures can be used and looked at together at home after school each day:

Daily Report Charts:

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 a haircut use to affect him for several days afterwards.  Fortunately, now that my son is older the haircuts are much easier.  Maturity and a good set of clippers have made haircuts successful.  I’m super excited to share with you the new hair clippers that are a GAME CHANGER!  The Remington Short Cut Pro Self-Haircut Kit is cordless, smooth, quiet and quick as it takes more hair in a single pass.  It’s the most sensory friendly clippers we’ve ever used on our son.  5 Minutes and no tears!

 

The night before school starts, have your child help lay out the clothes, organize the school supplies and pick out lunch/snack choices.  This will help to set the tone for  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.

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.

Taking a few extra steps to get organized, familiarizing yourself with the IEP/ Behavior  support plan, visiting the classroom, and providing visuals for your child will lead to a smooth start to the new school year.  Getting involved as a classroom volunteer is rewarding and a great way to interact with student peers and school staff.  Careful planning, organization and providing visual supports will make things easier for your child starting back to school.  Do you have any back to school tips or tricks for your child with special needs? I’d love to hear them.

That’s what is in my noggin this week!
~Teresa 🙂

back to school bus

Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram @nickdsaustim

Twitter @tjunnerstall

 

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

Blog #208~Vacation Tips for Parents of a Child With Special Needs

Blog #208~Vacation Tips for Parents of a Child With Special Needs

summer sand

Are you a parent of a child with special needs, that will be going on vacation soon?  If so, then this blog is for you.  It can be a lot of work ahead of time getting ready for a trip.  But it is well worth it to be prepared and have a plan in place to help your child feel more relaxed and secure.

Here are 7 Vacation Tips for Parents of a Child with Special Needs:

1. Prepare social stories and visual schedules including the mode of travel, and what is expected from your child.  Review the vacation destination venue online with your child.  This will give them an idea of where they will be going, and what they will be doing.  Print pictures of the vacation venue to create a daily activity schedule.  Visuals will provide a blueprint for your child to understand what will be happening, this will lessen their anxiety.

flying visuals

2. When booking accommodations, look for a comfortable and quiet retreat for your family.  This may mean a separate living area from the rest of your family or friends in some cases.

3. Bring medications, snacks, comfort items and highly preferred toys/sensory objects in your carry on bag.  In addition, it’s wise to pack an extra set of clothes for your child.

4. Plan short, flexible and open-ended adventures on your vacation.  Build in time for breaks as needed.

5. Work in at least a few activities that your child will love.

6. Eating familiar foods will help your child feel more at home in a strange place.  Check resturaunt menus online beforehand, especially in the case of any food allergies or dietary restrictions.  Don’t underestimate the importance of this.  Once on vacation, we forgot to buy Ranch dressing, this lead to my son having a meltdown.

7. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t go as planned.  As much as you can, try to watch for the triggers that may cause your child to have a meltdown.  See what you can do to cut these off at the pass before things escalate.

My son Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  There are definite triggers that can lead to him having a meltdown.  Besides the Ranch dressing incident, we’ve experienced several instances where heat has caused him to lose his cool.  On two different family reunions, Nick got upset waiting in the heat for the family group pictures to be taken.  Another occasion was a city tour on a 90+ degree day. We pushed the envelope too far, trying to walk back to the car, which was a good 10 blocks away.  Nick wanted no part of it.  He got very upset and it quickly escalated to a meltdown.  In retrospect, I should have asked a family member to get the car to us.

Hot Spring, AR was extra hot that day.  Nobody is happy here…….

004

When meltdowns happen, get your child to a safe spot and allow them to recover fully.  Reassure your child that he is loved and safe.  Most important as a parent, remain calm in these situations.  Afterwards review with your family what the antecedents were, that led to the behavior.  Learn from these, so you can avoid and control them in the future.

Vacations while fun, can be challenging for a child with special needs.  Prepare in advance with comfort items, visuals, and look for possible triggers that may cause anxiety and discomfort for your child.  Build in as much predictability as possible.  Keep a relaxed and flexible attitude when approaching daily activities.  It’s okay to cut things short, if it gets to be too much.  Have a great summer, and don’t forget to pack the sunscreen!  I’ll be sure to pick up some Ranch dressing too.

sunshine

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

~Teresa

Follow Nick:

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, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #207~Special Needs Parents: Coping When Life Gets Tough

 a Blog #207~Special Needs Parents: Coping When Life Gets Tough

Let’s face it, being a parent is exhausting at times.  When you have a child with special needs, it’s amplified.  Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.  You have to walk on eggshells, and keep your cool, so your child doesn’t have a meltdown.  The physical needs your child may have can take its toll, zapping your energy levels each day and night.  Autism and sleep disorders go hand in hand. Endless nights of interrupted sleep will beat you down.  My son Nick is 24 years old, and has Down syndrome and autism.  I’ve got many years under my belt, of taking care of his needs.  I can hold it together pretty well and keep my patience in tact.  Believe me, Nick does try my patience daily.  But every once in a while it gets to be too much, especially when sleep is disrupted.

mombie

So how do you find ways to catch a break and re-charge?  I thought a lot about this over the weekend.  There are times in life where you start to get your footing, but the next thing you know, a few more hurdles block your path.  In the worst of times, when my son was going through puberty and having multitudes of meltdowns, I questioned how I was going to survive.

I repeated this mantra to myself……

winston churhill quote

Here are 7 things to keep in mind which will help when you feel stressed out…..

  1. It’s totally NORMAL to feel overwhelmed.
  2. When you do feel stressed out, seek BALANCE and prioritize what MUST be done and what can wait.
  3. Stop feeling GUILTY.
  4. Give yourself a BREAK, even if it’s a mini break to keep you at your best both emotionally and physically.
  5. Ask for HELP from family, sitters and respite caregivers. You can’t do it alone.  Delegate household chores to all family members.
  6. CONNECT with support groups who better understand what you are dealing with on a daily basis.  Being a parent of a child with special needs can be lonely.  But you know what, you are NOT ALONE.
  7. Keep GRATITUDE in your heart.  Every day look for the blessings.  The good stuff will keep your focus positive.

This weekend was very busy, and my usual Saturday catch up routine was interrupted.  That evening I was looking for a clean pair of underwear for my son.  I dug through 3 clean laundry baskets that had yet to be put away.  Not one single pair could be found.  It was late, I was tired, and it was all too much.  While Nick was in the shower, I went into the closet and started yelling, “T, you suck.”  And yes, the swear words were flying.  Nick ended up in a pair of his Dad’s boxer briefs that were on the baggy side.  I spoke into the Amazon Echo, “Alexa, put F-ing underwear on the shopping list!”  Alexa acknowledged the request, without using the expletive, as she is polite that way.

The next day, Nick went to brunch with Kelsey, his respite caregiver.  I took my own advice, and put myself first.  I also took a moment to be grateful that Nick was fully toilet trained (no easy feat), and able to wear underwear.  Before making a Wal-Mart run for groceries and F-ing underwear, I headed over to my happy place, DSW Shoes. I was loaded down with preferred customer coupons and a gift card that I got for Mother’s Day.  It was only a twenty-minute mini break, but it did me a world of good!  Oh and I came out treating myself with two new pair of cute sandals. 🙂

Being a parent of a child with special needs carries a unique set of responsibilities that can be overwhelming.  Know that you are not alone, and that it’s essential to give yourself a break without guilt.  Even in the darkest days and nights, things will get better.

So I leave you with this final mantra when you are taking on what seems to be the impossible…..

breathe chapter quote

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

~Teresa

Follow Nick:

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, Parenting Special Needs, Uncategorized

Blog #206~ Stop Procrastinating

Blog #206~ Stop Procrastinating

no-procrastination

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”  It’s not always about being lazy, sometimes it is rooted in other causes.  So why do we procrastinate?

procrastination-powerpoint-14-638

Being a parent of a child with special needs, brings additional pressure.  There are many responsibilities of being their caretaker, that are lifelong.  My son Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  Taking care of my son is a never ending job.  Yes, sometimes I have check out and binge watch shows on HGTV and Bravo.  We all need some time to escape, but not at the expense of shrugging our responsibilies.  Perhaps, I’m writing this piece to remind myself to be more disciplined.   So, how do you kick the procrastination habit?

Here are 5 Tricks to Kick the Procrastination Habit:

1. Set Goals

Define what needs to get done and hold yourself accountable.  Re-assess your goals on occasion to make sure your priorities are where they need to be at this point in your life.  Commit to your goals!

#goals

2. Define Mini-Tasks

Breakdown your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks.  Ask yourself what steps need to happen to reach your goals.  For example, say you want to create and organize an IEP binder for your child.  An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) binder can help you prepare for IEP meetings and better collaborate with teachers and other IEP team members.  Break down creating this binder with tabs for each section (communication, evaluations, copy of IEP, report cards/progress notes, sample work, and behavior).  Breaking this project down into mini-tasks will be less overwhelming and easier to handle in stages.

iep-binder-1740x979

Click here get started on your IEP binder:  https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/special-services/ieps/how-to-organize-your-childs-iep-binder

3. Make Lists

I use to make fun of all the lists my Mom had going around our house, growing up.  But you know what, Mom was right, they do keep you organized and focused.  To do lists help track your goals.  There is a real satisfaction to checking off items after you’ve completed the tasks.  It rebuilds faith in your own abilities when you complete action items on a given deadline.

checklist

4. Eliminate Distractions

Cell phone alerts, social media, TV and a cluttered work space will distract you from working.  Free yourself of these, so you stay focused on your tasks.  Clutter is the enemy that is both dibilitating and anxeity ridden.  This weekend I cleaned out and purged my bathroom drawers and cabinets.  Why?  Well, A=It was raining and B=I couldn’t find one bobby pin.  The end result, I threw away a big bag of stuff I wasn’t even using.  I won’t be rummaging around the clutter, and wasting valuable time in the mornings.  Oh, and I found a lot of bobby pins 🙂

5. Carve Out Time That Works For YOU

You know yourself, and when your energy level and focus is most productive.  I say this all the time to my fitness class participants.  I’m NOT a morning person, so I do everything I can the night before that I can to prepare for the following day.  This includes laying clothes for myself and my son, jotting notes in his communication journal, and planning my fitness class agenda for work.

Nick’s grooming bin…..

photo (118)

It’s also important when you have a child with special needs, to get things done when it is quiet so you can concentrate.  I never try to write or edit when my son is home.  Instead, I take advantage of the time when he is at his adult day program to do the tasks that require a lot of focus.  Also, be sure and carve out free time for extra curricular activities. Find the balance of both a schedule and unscheduling.

writing-schedule

Breaking the habit of procrastination can be done by setting goals, breaking those down into mini-tasks, making lists, eliminating distractions and carving out time that works for you.  Building in flexibility, forgiving yourself, and rewarding your accomplishments are positive ways to keep up your momentum.  Stop procrastinating and make good on your promises.  Share your goals and tasks with friends and family who can encourage you and help you make good on your promises.

The wise words of Benjamin Franklin said it best, “You may delay, but time will not.”

That’s what is in my noggin this week.  Now where is that list pad?  I’m ready to get things done!

~Teresa 🙂

Follow Nick:

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, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan), Parenting Special Needs

Blog #204~ Lessons Learned from the Last Lecture

Blog #204~Lessons Learned from the Last Lecture

Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and author of the national bestselling book, The Last Lecture.  He encouraged his students to attempt hard things and not worry about failing.  He would give out “The First Penguin Award” to the team who took the biggest gamble trying new ideas and technology, but failed to achieve their goals.  “This award celebrated out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.”  The title of this award came from the way that penguins jump into the water that might contain predators.  Somebody has to be the gustsy, first penguin, and take a bold leap into the unknown.

fail spectacularly

The takeaway is this, it’s important to attempt hard things and  you can expect to hit brick walls.  That is when you gain experience.

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

This quote struck me as I was reading The Last Lecture over the weekend.  My son Nick, was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome.  Years later, he recieved a secondary diagnsosis of autism.  I didn’t get the “normal child” that I expected.  My path raising Nick has been very different then I had planned.  But along the way, over the past twenty-four years I’ve gained a great amount of experience in navigating my son’s journey.

Randy Pausch, a computer science professor gave his last lecture after receiving a diagnosis of terminal cancer, leaving behind a wife and three young children.  His book, The Last Lecture, co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow is a summation of everything Randy believed with some valuable lessons in “overcoming obstacles, enabling others, and seizing every moment.

There are so many lessons offered by Pausch in The Last Lecture.  I want to share a few that resonated with me, as a parent of a child with special needs.  When my son, Nick was born twenty-four years ago, I made some choices on how I was going to manage life.  I was dealt a set of cards, that I didn’t expect.  But soon realized, that I would have to play the hand differently.  This meant getting support to help my son reach developmental milestones and creating a home environment that supported his growth.  I also learned to reach out to parents, therapists and teachers with experience to help me understand how to help my son become the best he could be.

Randy Pausch cards dealt with

Another valuable lesson is in the approach to life when facing adversity.  Randy says, “Make a decision, are you going to be a Tigger or an Eeyore?”  A.A. Milne’s beloved Winnie-the Pooh characters are in two different camps.  I’d choose fun-loving Tigger over grumpy Eeyore every time.  Optimism can take you much further in life!

Randy-Pausch-Pooh-Quote

Here are a few more nuggets of wisdom from Randy Pausch, and how they relate to being a parent of a child, with special needs.  I found these lessons to ring true, especially navigating a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism:

“All you have is what you bring with you.”

I understand all too well the need to be prepared for whatever situation the day may bring with my son.  What do I need to bring and what should I anticipate?  This could be anything from an extra set of clothes, spare iPod, PECS book, AAC device, snacks, Kleenex, stim toys and more.  Identify possible trouble spots/ triggers for meltdowns/messess and come up with ways to avoid these incidences.  Also, have a contingency plan in case as Randy says, “All hell breaks loose”.”

“All you have to do is ask.”

Randy tells a story about his Dad wanting to ride in the nose cone with the driver on the monorail at Disney World.  His Dad assumed they didn’t let regular people ride up there.  Randy told his Dad he had a trick and asked if his Dad wanted to see it.  He walked up the driver and asked, and the driver said yes.  You never know unless you ask, and this is true from my experiences working with doctors, therapists, teachers and other IEP members.  Ask for IEP drafts before the meeting, and to be included in your child’s goal planning.  Ask that the parent concerns (that you’ve written ahead of time), be put directly in the IEP at the beginning of the meeting.  These concerns will be a part of what drives the IEP.  Ask the doctor for whatever your child might need for their health like, prescriptions for therapy, nutritional supplements, evaluations for orthotics and to get all test results as soon as they come in.

“Start by sitting together”

This is essential when going to your child’s IEP (Individual Eduction Plan) meetings.  Randy’s approach to working with a group of people is simple.  Lay all the cards face up on the table and say to the group, “Ok, what can we collectively make of this hand?”  He offers a few tips for a successful group meeting like having optimal meeting conditions (make sure no one is hungry, cold or tired).  I’ll add in cramped rooms with  small chairs, as this has happened to me in past IEP meetings. Randy also adds, to let everyone talk, check your egos at the door and praise each other.  Finally phrase alternatives as questions, so instead of saying, “I think we should do A and not B” try saying,  “What if we did A and not B”.  This allows the team members to offer comments rather than defend their choice.  It opens up the discussion to get input from the whole IEP team.

The lessons that Randy Pausch shares in his book, are valuable.  Here are my takeaways as they relate being a parent of a child with special needs:

*Don’t be afraid to think outside the box and try something daring.

*If you hit a brick wall, learn from it and gain more experience.

*You can’t change the cards that were dealt, but you can change how you play the hand.

*Your approach in playing that hand can be with a positive or negative attitude, it’s your choice.

*All you have to do is ask.  They might say sure, why not.

*Start by sitting together, when it comes to IEP’s the team should come together to be solution oriented, not problem oriented in collaboration approach.

Thank you Randy Pausch for the valuable lessons you shared in The Last Lecture and for the reminder to take what you have learned so that you can help others who might be starting down the same path.

And as you navigate your path always remember this…..

Randy Pausch spending time

  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 

Follow Nick:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism

Instagram #nickdsatuism

Twitter @tjunnerstall

 

 

Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #202~ Down syndrome, A New Beginning

Blog #202~ Down syndrome, A New Beginning

So this just happened, I flew back to Texas over the weekend to be with my niece, who is also my God-daughter.  Courtney recently gave birth to twin boys.  Shortly after their birth last December, she called me with the news that one of the babies might have Down syndrome. The first thing I felt was excitement inside, knowing that God has many blessings coming her way.  I told Courtney that everything was going to be okay, and that I’d be there for her every step of the way.  I know this to be a fact, because I have been blessed for the past 24 years with my son, Nick.

My niece didn’t know that one of her twins would have Down syndrome until after she gave birth.  Just as I did, the initial shock can take your breath away and a myriad of emotions come at you in waves.  However, like me she has rolled up her sleeves and embraced this diagnosis fully.  I couldn’t be more proud of her.

The twins Gannon and Greyson 🙂

Gannon and Greyson

Courtney jumped right in becoming an advocate for her son, Gannon.  Last month, she gave a presentation to her older son’s elementary school class on World Down Syndrome Day……

Gannon WDSD

For World Down Syndrome Day, Courtney had special shirts made for her immediate and extended family, as well as friends…….

Courtney and family

Here’s my son, Nick wearing his shirt to support #gannonsjourney and World Down Syndrome Day….

Nick Down right perfect

There is a lot of love felt in their home, along with a load of testosterone, with four boys under one roof.  Her two little dogs and cat lay on the couches close by, seemingly like protectors providing comfort as we sat and visited.

Gannon and me

It was a great weekend holding, feeding and loving on the twins, along with a few games of Battleship, Candyland, Toilet Trouble and snap chat photos with the older boys.  In between all of this, we had a chance to talk about our experiences together.  During the course of these conversations, I flashed back 24 years ago when I gave birth to Nick.  I told Courtney and her husband Patrick, how the pediatrician pointed out the initial markers that might indicate my son could have Down syndrome.  My doctor gently showed me the brushfield spots in my babies eyes, the larger gap space between the first two toes, and the feeling of low muscle tone in his body.  Courtney gasped when I mentioned my pediatricians name, she thought I was joking.  It turns out that they have the same pediatrician as I did!  Not only that, her husband (who also lived in this same area outside Houston) had Dr. K as his pediatrician growing up.  Courtney started to cry as we found the similarities in our lives being so serendipitous.  They were happy tears.

Who would ever predict that this little niece and God-daughter of mine would follow such a similar path?  At the moment this photo was taken, 28 years ago I was just a doting aunt to her…..

Courtney and me

Here we are 29 years later…..

Courtney Gannon and me

In December, after the twins were born, her pediatrician pointed out similar markers of Gannon possibly having Down syndrome.  I told Courtney over the phone, that she had this.  She was already ahead of the game, with her experience having Nick as her cousin.

Courtney and Nick, 1994…..

courtney and nick

Courtney and Nick, 2010………

photo (116)

I handed my niece this journal, on Saturday.  It felt as though I was passing the baton over, as she starts her own journey…..

Journal

The journey will be filled with highs and lows as she navigates her son having Down syndrome.  As the pen moves across each page, her eyes may be filled with tears during the struggles as he grows.  But there will also be many smiles when he triumphs the milestones of crawling, sitting up, walking, feeding and so much more.  Each benchmark will take longer to reach and require much more work.   But that is what makes these victories even sweeter.  My niece is just beginning this new path, and I both smile and take a deep breath inside, knowing what lies ahead.  My son has changed my life forever and filled me with God’s grace.  Like his cousin Nick, Gannon will touch many lives and teach lessons of gratitude in the process.

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

~Teresa

Follow Nick:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall

Follow Gannon #gannonsjourney