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

Special Needs Summer Program Ideas

Special Needs Summer Program Ideas

This week, I’ve provided a list of some summer program ideas and links for children with special needs. My son, Nick is 25 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). Over the years he has participated in a variety of programs.  Here is a blog I wrote a couple of years ago, highlighting some great programs for individuals with special needs:

Click here to view:

Honesty, I was uncertain about attempting some of the programs, given Nick’s dual diagnosis of DS-ASD. It’s important to at least try new things and keep expanding your child’s horizons. As the saying goes, “you never know, until you try it”. That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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Posted in Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Vacation and Special Needs Child

Vacation and Special Needs Child

Last week, Nick put together this task strip.  I think he is ready to go on our annual vacation to the Outer Banks, NC (OBX)!

OBX Task Strip

We have been going to the Outer Banks for the past 5 years. Nick loves the water.  It’s not easy getting a child with special needs to swim independently.  Nick is now 21 and has Down syndrome and autism.  Here’s some information on how he learned how to swim and why we love the beach so much@

I hope that you all find your happy place and get to relax this summer.  I know Nick is ready to go!  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂


Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Blog #97~ Being Nick’s Peer Partner


Blog #97~Being Nick’s Peer Partner

This week, I am very excited to share this piece written by Ryan Solomon.  Ryan was Nick’s peer partner at Metea Valley High School.  The Peer Partner Program operates in conjunction with the Adapted Physical Education Department.  It allows selected students the opportunity to provide mentorship to students with a variety of abilities.  Ryan’s experience with Nick, (who has Down syndrome and autism) inspired him to write this essay for college consideration. 

Essay by Ryan Solomon:

“My application lists my three–‐sport varsity achievements –including all–‐conference and all–‐academic in soccer, basketball and baseball.  You might think I’m a competitive, insensitive jock. So, you may find it ironic that I applied to “opt out” of PE class. Two years ago I was selected as a “Peer Partner” with 26 other students to assist special needs students in Adaptive PE.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience – especially last year. I’ve learned that I am sensitive and caring from my yearlong association with a person that has had a significant influence on me, my “Best Buddy” Nick Unnerstall.

Nick is severely mentally challenged and barely able to speak. Last year, when I was “peer partnered” to swim with Nick, I was afraid it would be a daunting task. Before we met, I expected to see a sad child scared of the school’s enormous swimming pool.  Instead, when I got to the pool, Nick, wearing his floaters, jumped in fearlessly.  We swam together the entire period.  The look on his face was refreshing–‐full of curiosity and wonder.  His smile beamed ear to ear.  The instructor thought it would be difficult for me to handle Nick daily -from preparing to swim, swimming and getting him to class –but that was not the case!  Her concerns disappeared as Nick and I bonded nearly instantly.  We showed up excited to swim every day.  Swimming was the one thing that Nick looked forward to each day.

After class I’d help Nick to lunch.  We’d just smile even though no words were shared.  Simple motions and expressions allowed us to communicate.  This daily routine put my life into perspective.  I used to think it was tough having homework and a game on the same night; dealing with a sports injury; or getting caught up with drama among friends.  None of this compares to what Nick goes through every day and for the rest of his life.

Through Nick, I’ve learned to appreciate all that I am able to do and have learned not to take anything for granted.  Before Nick, I believed I deserved starting positions in sports, or recognition and respect from my peers regardless of my actions. I put myself in his shoes and can see the adversity Nick faces each day from trying to be understood to struggling to get down the hallway crowded with students.  I now realize no one deserves anything without hard work. Although I believe I work hard athletically and academically, it does not compare to the Nick’s challenge to speak or get in and out of the pool.  Now, I work hard at being a compassionate and caring person.

Because of Nick, I am thoughtful of what I say and do.  I have become much more aware of those around me.  Nick shows me there is more to my life than academics and athletics.  With Nick and Peer Partners, hard work, compassion and caring helps me help others.”

Ryan and Nick 🙂

Peer Partners

Reading this essay warmed my heart.  As his mom, it is wonderful to know that Nick has made a difference in Ryan’s life and no doubt many others.  Ryan just finished his sophomore year at The University of Illinois.  I would like to thank him for sharing his story of working with Nick.

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





Posted in Down syndrome, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Blog #17~ Life’s a Beach

Blog #17~ Life’s a Beach*

Drip, drip drip… Last Wednesday morning we were met with nothing but grey skies and the sea blending as one. It put a damper on the day in which we just wanted to bask in the sun and splash in the water. The rain tried to beat down our souls.  But all we had to do was crack open the patio door and hear the waves.  There is something about the ocean that energizes and grounds me all at once. Here is a favorite quote of mine…..

Why do we love the sea? It is because it has some potent power to make us think things we like to think. -Robert Henri

What is it about being by the water that awakens a person?  For as long as I can remember, Nick has loved the water. Nick is 18 and has Down syndrome and autism.

Nick age 5 with his Dad, Al……

Too Cool, by the pool, Nick age 14 at the NADS Behavior Retreat….

Nick heading to swim class at MVHS….

The thought of getting Nick to actually learn to swim seemed impossible.   I enrolled him in lessons with the special recreation department where we met Mary who had been teaching for over 30 years.  She had a no nonsense approach and Nick knew she meant business.  About 5 years ago she got him to go underwater and dive for pool toys.  Seeing Nick swimming was amazing.  He looked like all the other kids in the pool. No longer was he the boy that sat in the shallow end stimming with a cup.

A few years later I started private lessons in her backyard pool out in Batavia.  Her task was to coordinate the arms and legs together. Mary put flippers on Nick and suddenly he could feel the kicking sensation that propelled him faster across the pool.

The following summer he was syncing up the movement without the flippers and heading into the deep end.  It was magical!  His technical skills are far from Michael Phelps, but he can do a mean doggie paddle.  Most importantly, he can make it across the pool without sinking.

No flippers or flotation devices….Go Nick!

This is our third year to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, (simply as OBX here.)  It is a crazy strip of land known as a sandbar that rose above sea level.  Just turn the knob to Bob, radio 93.3 and chill.

OBX Beach time 2011~Hank, Sam and Nick…..

The house we stayed at has a private pool and the beach access. Nick isn’t crazy about the texture of sand, but we continue to push him out of his comfort zone.  It is important to get him out in the world.  If we don’t then his world and ours will become too narrow.

Here is a bird’s eye view much in the movie “Rear Window” of our back yard here in the OBX….

A walk down the beaches of the Outer Banks is a greeting of many characters.  Floppy hat ladies in low slung chairs reading books. I wonder how many are reading Fifty Shades of Grey (or as my writer friend, Marcia F. calls it “Mommy Porn.”) A glance to the ocean you find the sporty types throwing Frisbees, footballs or out on the water kayaking, paddle boarding, body surfing and skim boarding.  Joggers dot the edges of the shoreline in varied stages of serious (with headphones and shoes) and casual barefoot walkers simply taking in the day.   Sandpipers scamper across the sand and ghost grabs burrow and pop up from time to time.  Gulls and pelicans glide across sky in seemingly perfect formation. Umbrellas act like rainbows adding pops of color across the coastline and the fisherman patiently wait for the catch of the day.

Al with Ron, my brother in law, his happy place….

The Outer Banks may be a narrow strip of beach but it offers up a large slice of chill time that brings families together and fills up the photo album with wonderful memories.  I love this beach quote!

 “Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.” –Anonymous 

The sun did come back out.  I sat on the beach thinking about life.  It isn’t always smooth as when the full moon casted its glow over the quiet waters the night before.  The waves can get rough when navigating a child with special needs. Especially during vacations, when they are out of their element. But I am not going to let my world with Nick close in on me.  Like the ocean that has no boundaries I plan to keep pushing out to the horizon. That is what is in my noggin this week.  Until next Monday, may your life be a beach!


*There is no direct origin for this phrase “Life’s a Beach. But Word says this about the quote, “Although the expression ‘life’s a beach’ may have originated as a pun for ‘life’s a bitch’, it’s also a statement on it’s own, that life is not a bitch at all, rather, life’s a beach. It signifies that the wearer views life as a pleasant beach – sun, surf, relaxation…