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

Blog #229~DS-ASD Winter Update

Blog #229~DS-ASD Winter Update

Chicago winter 2019

This winter weather has been bitter and harsh, here in Chicago.  Fortunately, we missed the plummeting temperatures last week, while vacationing in Vail, Colorado.  My son, Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD).  Here’s an update on what Nick’s been up to this winter and the highlights of our trip to Vail.

The weather in Vail was mild, with temperatures in the 35-40 degree range and plenty of sunshine.  There is something to be said about sunlight and how it can elevate your mood.  The clear blue skies, warm sun, fresh air, and beautiful mountain views, can do wonders for the soul.

Vail sunset 2019

Nick enjoyed his time with our friends in Vail.  The village is always a fun place to visit.  Here’s Nick at lunch and with his Dad, Al :)…..


The highlight of the week, for Nick was dog sledding.  This is the second year we’ve done this with Mountain Mushers, who offer the best dog sledding rides in the Vail Valley.  Nick was happy to see his buddy, Cameron who was our dog sled musher last year.  He always gets such a kick seeing all the happy dogs, who bark with excitement as the sleds loaded up.

All bundled up in the sled and ready to go, and guess what, he actually kept his hat and gloves on this time.  Yay Nick! 🙂


The scenic trail was packed with alot more snow this year, making the ride faster. His favorite part is when the sled goes over the bumps and flies down the hills. Nick is a thrill seeker, who always signs “more” when a roller coaster ride is over.  He also loves the Disney movie Snow Dogs, so this was a perfect blend of his favorite things.  Towards the end of the ride, his Dad got to try his hand at mushing.  Check out the Facebook, Instagram and Twitter links below to see videos of them dog sledding in action all this week. 🙂 

Today it’s a balmy 50 degrees here in Chicago, and Nick has returned to his adult developmental training day program.  It’s hard to believe the turn around in temperatures……

Chicago temp difference

As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, Nick attends a day program that he truly enjoys.  The adult developmental training program curriculum includes functional and academic work activities, crafts, exercise, cooking, entertainment, and community outings.  The staff reports that Nick has so much potential and does awesome at the learning centers and work choices.  They have a lot of fun, especially over the holidays. Activities included a big Christmas lunch, wearing ugly sweaters, listening to a local high school choir and making wreaths, gingerbread houses and pillows.

Here’ s a no sew pillow that Nick made…..

nick pillow

If you look closely in the picture above, you might notice a stop icon on the dishwasher.  There are many of these stop signs on the start buttons around our house.  Individuals with a diagnosis of autism can benefit from the use of icons, to better guide their days.  Nick has a thing for pushing buttons and fire alarms.  His behavior support plan (BSP) addresses the fire alarm pulling.  Twice each day, the staff at his day program take him on a walk down the hallways.  They encourage and cue him to “keep walking” with “hands to self”.  Before these walks, the staff reads his social story that contains pictures of how to  navigate these hall walks.  Upon successful completion, Nick earns a reward.

Click on this link to learn more about the BSP and his social story:

That wraps up Nick’s world and what he’s been up to this winter.  Navigating a dual diagnosis of  DS-ASD has it’s good and bad days.  Fortunately, the good days now outweigh the bad.  I think it’s both maturity on Nick’s part, along with the wisdom and understanding gained from being his parent.  Big guy has a milestone birthday coming up, I look forward to sharing more with you next Monday!  What is one thing that Nick has taught you over the past 24+ years?  I’d love to hear your feedback. 🙂

That’s what is in my noggin this week.


Follow Nick on Social Media to see more pics and videos:

Nick head shot in vail

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism and more on dog sledding #mountainmushers

Twitter @tjunnerstall






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

Nick~Spring Update

Nick~Spring Update

dandelion two

At last, spring has arrived in Chicago.  Here’s what Nick has been up to this spring at his adult day program.  My son is 23 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  Each day he engages in a variety of activities at this program.

Nick continues to have both in-house and community vocational jobs.  These include stocking shelves at a local food pantry, stuffing church bulletins and cleaning at GiGi’s playhouse.  He recently got a paid job in-house, crushing and recycling cans.


Other community activities in Nick’s day program include visits to the library, shopping, and local parks.  In house, the adult day program has many enrichment activities such as art, work bins, cooking, fitness, and gardening.  They have taken the carrot and broccoli pods which were started indoors this winter, and planted them outside.  His group also bought and spread mulch on the outdoor beds.

In cooking, they’ve made shepherds pie, fruit pizza, hot dogs & sloppy joes with fries, and biscuits with gravy.  They have so much fun playing bingo and having holiday theme parties.  For St. Patrick’s Day they made shamrock shakes, and for Cinco de Mayo they made burrito bowls.  Recently, the moms were invited to his room for a Mother’s Day tea.  Nick was very excited to have me visit.

Mother's Day Tea

Outside of Nick’s adult day program, he keeps busy with his respite workers.  He enjoys going to local parks,  the library, movie theatre and restaurants.  He’s a regular at Culvers and CiCi’s Pizza each week.  We are very fortunate to have such dedicated caregivers with Lara, Jodi and Kelsey, who he loves very much.

I’ve painted a pretty and serene picture of Nick’s world this spring.  But it’s not all dainty flowers and colorful rainbows.  There are quite a few dandelions scattered in the mix.


He continues to challenge us all with undesirable behaviors, like button pushing, throwing objects, blowing snot rockets and wiping them all over the place along with a lot of tapping and stimming.

Nick got a hold of a gargantuan tapper to stim on last week 🙂

Nick gargantuan tapper

There have been some milk thistles popping into the picture as well.  Last week he managed to add to his tally of fire alarm pulls, getting one at his day program.  So the alarm count stands today at 44 pulls.  OUCH!

milk thistle

The mix of cold weather and rain has led to some serious cabin fever this spring.  Here’s to warmer weather and getting my “one man wrecking crew” outdoors.  I’m grateful that Nick has a wonderful day program to go to, along with awesome respite workers that he loves.  He has a fulfilling life, and I get some peaceful time to myself.   Cheers to an abundance of flowers this spring, with fewer thorns.

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 Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #146~The Many Faces of Nick

Blog #146~The Many Faces of Nick

I was cleaning out the camera roll on my iPhone the other day.  There are so many funny pictures of Nick.  My son is 22 years old, he has Down syndrome and autism.  This week, a light hearted piece, featuring the many faces of Nick.

I could never get Nick to wear hat and gloves on any frigid, winter day here in Chicago.  He’ll leave the house with them on.  But, flings them off before the yellow bus pulled away from the curb.  Yet, he willingly wears hats and gloves (on his own terms) around the house…….

“Elmer Fud Nick”

Nick Elmer Fud

“Snow Bunny Nick”

nick snow bunny

“Gloved Nick”

Nick gloved

“Hoodie Nick”

nick hoodie

Then, there are the random things he gets a hold of……

“Suction Cup Nick”

Nick suction cup

“Wrestling Team Nick”

Nick Wrestling

“Googly Eyes Nick”

Nick Googly eyes

“Salad Ninja Nick”

Nick salad ninja

“Silly Nose Nick”

Nick Silly Nose

“Seatbelt Nick”

Nick seatbelt

“Fashionista Nick”

Nick fashionista

“Collegiate Nick”

Nick College

Here’s a couple using the CamWow and Snap Chat Apps…….

“Infared Nick”

Nick infared

“Twin Nicks” (Can you imagine that?)

nick twin


“Pantomime Nick”

nick pantomine

“Rainbow Burst Nick”

nick rainbow

Hey Nick, The Village People called.  They want their costume back…

nick police

I hope you enjoyed the many faces of Nick.  He’s quite a character.  I love this guy and his sense of humor.  Many thanks to his respite caregivers, Jodi and Kelsey for capturing several of these moments.  Have a great week, and take some time do something silly like Nick.  That’s what is in my noggin this week!


Follow Nick:

Facebook @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism


pintrest@Down Syndrome With A Slice of Autism



Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick, Recreation/Leisure and Special Needs

Summer Vacation Update

Summer Vacation Update 

We are back from a two week vacation break.  It’s never certain how a person with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism will do with changes in schedule and venues.  Here’s what we’ve been up to………

Nick enjoyed going out with his respite worker, Lara to Blackberry Farm.  While on a ride, filled with little kids they hit a big bump.  Nick blurted out a loud expletive.  Let’s just say the little ones might have learned a new word they shouldn’t have.  Uncle Thomas came up from Texas for a visit.  It was fun to share laughs together and grill on the deck.  Nick showed his Uncle how he likes to play musical chairs.  Every time someone would get up, Nick would grab all his tappers and stims and steal their spot. He’d laugh flashing that devilish grin of his.

nick and tappers

The second week, we took a road trip to attend a family reunion.  Our route down took us thru St. Louis……

St. Louis Arch

We arrived at our destination 11 hours later at Lee’s Resort in Grove, Oklahoma….


Nick did really well in the car.  You just have to tune out the sound of the tennis balls tapping incessantly and watch out for flying toys and objects coming from the back seat.

Nick tapping on my shoulder on the road trip 🙂 “Wake up Mom!”

Nick tapping shoulder

It was so much fun to be with the family.  On Friday, we rented a pontoon boat. His Grandma, cousins, aunt and uncles had blast tubing and he loved riding fast in the boat.  Nick was doing great until we had trouble getting the anchor to stay put. We were ready to relax and float in the lake for a bit.  After several failed attempts in three different areas, Nick began to get upset and agitated.  Poor guy, he didn’t know what was going on.  Finally, we found an abandoned dock and tied up to it.  It took some coaxing to convince Nick to put a life jacket on and get in.  (Normally I would have made some visuals for him to follow.  But we didn’t plan the boat excursion in advance).  For persons like Nick, who have Down syndrome and autism it is important to show visuals so they understand what is going on and also what is expected of them.  Eventually Nick made his way to the stern of the boat.  His legs were trembling as he slowly went down the stairs.  Oh, but once Nick hit the water, he took off doggy paddling so fast as if he was after a fire alarm.🙂

 Grand Lake in Grove, OK…..


After five days of visiting, games, filling up on homemade banana pudding, cobbler and ice cream, we hit the road back to Chicago.  Driving amongst the corn fields I got to thinking about our time with the family.  We are very fortunate to have their support and understanding about Nick.  I looked up into the sky at the clouds trying to zone out ESPN radio.  One cloud looked like a Dalmatian with wings.  Another resembled Dory, the fish from the Disney movie “Finding Nemo”.  Nick was busy tapping a water bottle and cracking himself up laughing.  I have no idea why.   What I wouldn’t give to get inside his noggin and see what he’s thinking.  Since that is not possible I can only go by his demeanor.

Nick hung in there well and did better than I expected at the family reunion.  The only time he got mad,(besides the anchor problems on the boat) was when the tables were rearranged in a different configuration for the final dinner. (He had been sitting in the same spot for every meal.)  Yes, he made loud noises, blew snot rockets and threw things just as he does every day. But that’s just Nick’s world.  I’m not sure what some of the extended family members know or think about Nick.  The ones who choose to engage feel a connection in his hugs, fake sneezes, burps and elbow bumps.  It warms my heart to see that Nick has those family bonds.  We made it without any meltdowns and Nick had a great time and for that, I am thankful.  That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂


Posted in Fun Side of Nick

Blog #31~ Then and Now

Blog #31~ Then and Now

I am not sure how this blog is going to come off this week. I am surrounded by loud banging while the workers are replacing the siding on our house. Unlike Saturday when it felt like they were going to come straight through the roof this is more like a piercing in the walls coming at me from all three sides.  Add the sound of scraping metal like finger nails on a chalkboard….You get the picture now, right? It’s like Nick stimming and banging times a trillion.  I should take an Advil now before the pounding goes to my head.  So here we go……..

It was during Thanksgiving week in 2001 when we made our way across the country on our move from the San Francisco Bay area to Chicago.  I am a native Texas gal.  Right from the *get-go I noticed a few different things and that there would be a learning curve to living in the Midwest.  Before I roll up my sleeves on this piece I think I will retreat to the basement, which bring me to my first observation.  There are no basements where I grew up in Texas. It’s nice to have the extra space for the kids to stretch out and play when the weather gets too cold outside. Speaking of cold, the first day I went out to get groceries it must have been 45 or 50 degrees.  In route to Meijer, I was shocked to see the mail carrier wearing shorts.  Once I got to the store I bought a pair of gloves and put them on right away. A few weeks later, we were at the mall.  I remember asking my Mother in law, Theresa why there were red stakes on top of the fire hydrants.  She explained that is so the firefighters could locate the hydrants when the snow gets high.  After I picked up my jaw off the floor I had to wrap myself around the fact that I was going to have to learn to drive in the snow.  It was not going to be easy as I had a Ford Explorer with rear wheel drive (I bought the car in Texas, no front or four wheel drive required.)  The trick is to pull out slowly and let the wheels grip otherwise the wheels just keep spinning around.

It was like driving Fred Flintstone style…….

Here’s another tidbit, I learned…. If you squirt the windshield wipers under 20 degrees without the proper fluid with de-icer your windshield immediately becomes an ice rink and you will have to stick your head out the side window to see where you are going.   In addition, you don’t want to leave liquids open in your car otherwise the insides of the windows will be covered with ice condensation. Out in the community I noticed little things like how all the restaurants have coat hooks by each booth. My favorite is when you leave the grocery store a strong blast of warm air shoots from the vents just before you are thrust out into the cold.  Around the neighborhood some things I noted where that many of the houses aren’t fenced in and the backyards just blend from one to the other.  A large majority of the driveways are black asphalt rather than cement.

Nearly every mailbox has a wood house build around it like this….. Except ours 🙂  Do the mailboxes really need their own little house?

Around four thirty p.m. when the skies darken you will hear the sound of the geese flying overhead.  Sometimes a random family of Mallard ducks will come through the yard and there are always lots of bunny rabbits.  The rabbits were cute until they began to eat my new flowers I planted in the spring. Those are my observations since moving to the Midwest.  Well, I have yet to bring in Nick in the picture…..So let’s get to it……… 🙂

Many things have changed during our time here.  Now, I have a car with 4 wheel drive and heated seats….. toasty and a worthwhile investment! 🙂 The kitchen has undergone a remodel and the boys have gotten much bigger.

Nick then…..At age 8, with blue bottle in hand……..(See Blog #3 “Happiness Is” for more about that.)

Nick now, age 18……

Hank then, age 10…..Oh and Miss Mellie age 7……

Hank now, age 20 and Mellie, age 17…..

Nick has always loved music, here he is then….. Yes that’s a Walkman….. 🙂

And now….My how technology has changed over 10 years….

His taste in music and movies has evolved; well I guess you could say it has. At least it  progressed out of Barney and Thomas the Tank Engine songs and movies to The Nutty Professor and Mrs. Doubtfire. His ipod playlist is legit now thanks to his brother, Hank.

One more of Nick then………

And now…..Nick grew along with the trees and shrubs……

It has been a great 10+ years seeing the boys grow up in the Midwest. 45-50 degrees seems mild to me now. I can now drive decently through the snow and we added a third car. Don’t worry it’s not for Nick 🙂

That’s what is in my noggin this week. Until next Monday remember that time has a way of flying by.  Be sure and enjoy the ride!


*In terms of its origin, the phrase “from the get-go” relates to similar uses of these words in other phrases like “get going.”