Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness

Blog #219~ The Faces of Down Syndrome

Blog #219~The Faces of Down Syndrome

The faces of Down syndrome are more prominent in 2018, than they were 24 years ago when my son, Nick was born.  Acceptance and inclusion are two things we advocate everyday, and especially in the month of October, which is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.

Down syndrome awareness month

This week I want to highlight some of the faces of individuals with Down syndrome who are making a difference, by advocating acceptance and inclusion.  There are more models with Down syndrome in the media, thanks to companies like Target and all the way up to New York fashion week.  In addition, television shows are featuring actors with Down syndrome.  Trailblazers are advocating for job opportunities and making a difference.  Here are some of the faces of individuals who have Down syndrome, and advocates who are paving the way.

btway

*A&E’s Emmy winning series Born this Way 🙂

“Winner of the 2016 Emmy Award for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program, Born This Way follows a group of seven young adults born with Down syndrome as they pursue their passions and lifelong dreams, explore friendships, romantic relationships and work, all while defying society’s expectations.  In their willingness and courage to openly share their lives, through a lens that is not often shown on television, we learn they have high hopes just like anyone else. The series also gives voice to the parents, allowing them to talk about the joy their son or daughter brings to their family, and the challenges they face in helping them live as independently as possible”.

Read my exclusive interview with Sandra Assismotos McElwee (author of Who’s the Slow Learner? A Chronicle of Inclusion & Exclusion) and mother of cast mate Sean McElwee here: https://nickspecialneeds.com/?s=born+this+way

*CNN’s Hero of the Year Amy Wright of Bitty and Beau’s Coffee 🙂

bitty and beau coffee shop

CNN Heroes is a television special created by CNN to honor individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanitarian aid and make a difference in their communities. Amy Wright started a grass-roots movement, opening up Bitty & Beau’s Coffee, which is located in Wilmington, NC. National statistics have shown that 70% of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed. Her mission is to provide purposeful jobs that bring the community together, and helps people with and without disabilities to spend time together.

Read my blog about Bitty and Beau’s Coffee: https://nickspecialneeds.com/?s=bitty+and+bo

*Firestarter Advocating for Inclusion on Capitol Hill David Egan 🙂

Firestarters

One of the featured individuals in the book Firestarters is David Egan.  David 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-Capitol-Hill-2011

Read more about this Firestarter David Egan and co-author Paul Eder in my exclusive interview at this link: https://nickspecialneeds.com/?s=firestarter

*We are seeing more actors and models with Down syndrome in prominent roles! 🙂

Chris Burke was a trailblazer starring in the TV series, Life Goes On:

Chris Burke 2

Lauren Potter star of Fox’s hit show Glee:

potter27.jpg

Jamie Brewer stars in American Horror Story:

American Horror Story jamie Brewer

Madeline Stuart and Maria Avila are changing the face of beauty and diversity in the world of fashion, both have walked at NY Fashion Week!

madeline stuart    maria avila

*2018 Gerber Spokes Baby Lucas Warren 🙂 

Gerber baby 2018

Read more about 2018 Gerber Baby, Lucas in my blog: https://nickspecialneeds.com/?s=gerber+baby

It’s wonderful to see more of these beautiful faces in the media.  How amazing to read about advocates who are opening up doors for employment and being applauded for their efforts!  Individuals with Down syndrome have goals and dreams, and want the same things as everyone else.  They need opportunities and to be included without barriers.  Let’s move beyond awareness about Down syndrome, towards acceptance and inclusion!

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Follow my son, Nick where you will find more stories and faces of DS:

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), 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.

~Teresa

Follow Nick:

Facebook @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

instagram-logo#nickdsautism

pintrest@Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

twitter logo@tjunnerstall

 

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Nick’s 21st Birthday

Nick’s 21st Birthday

Big Guy turned 21 this past Saturday.  We threw a party and Nick had a blast.  Here are a few snapshots of the day:

Party favors…..Theme red solo cups and Thomas the Tank engine, only in Nick’s world!

red cup favors

I made a toast thanking caregivers, therapists, family and friends for their support with Nick (who has Down syndrome and autism) over the years.  Nick followed it up by flashing the crowd.  Looks like we have some new members added to the “belly flashing club”.  🙂

Nick belly flash 21

Chocolate cake, Nick’s favorite…..

Nick 21 cake

New sensory toys from his occupational therapist…..

Nick sensory toys

Cheers and down the hatch!  Don’t worry, he didn’t slam the whole thing.  Nick’s brother Hank, handed him the last half of his beer.  🙂

Nick chug beer

It was a great celebration.  We are very appreciative of the generosity from our family and friends.  Thank you for all the well wishes and touching sentiments.  That’s what is in my noggin this week!

~Teresa

 

 

 

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #106~ Pets and Children with Special Needs

Blog #106~ Pets and Children with Special Needs

Having a pet in the home can be beneficial for a child with special needs. Pets can boost mental and physical health, alleviate stress, be soothing and reduce anxiety. For a child with special needs, a pet provides unconditional love and affection along with helping a child become more social. In addition, having a pet in the home can teach responsibility and empathy. Feeding and caring for a pet allows a child to shift the focus to a pet’s needs. 

I witnessed this first hand with Nick. My 20 year old son has Down syndrome and autism.  His speech is limited. He uses a  picture book to communicate his wants, needs and feelings. On several occasions he has handed me these two icons:

This is our cat Miss Mellie of 17 years that passed away…..

Mellie Sad Icons

For as long as I can remember, there has been a tabby cat in my life.

Me with Tiger back in the late 70’s……

Tiger and T

When Nick was first born, we took him to get screened for the early intervention program. One of the questions they asked was, “What other family members were there?” They were pleased to hear this included an older brother and a cat. Both of them would help Nick become alert and engaged in the world. His brother could shake toys to get him to look up. A cat with a bell on his collar would also get Nick’s attention. Each time he would look up it would strengthen his neck and trunk. This in turn, helped to fight the low muscle tone associated with having Down syndrome.

Nick, Hank and Woody our cat….. (You can see Nick’s low muscle tone as he is propped up against his brother)

Woody and the boys

Woody was my faithful friend since college and lived to be 17.  Several months later, we adopted Miss Mellie. You can read all about Nick and Miss Mellie’s relationship in the archives under the category, “The Fun Side of Nick”.

Nick thought she made a great task strip for his PECS icons…..

photo (117)

Now,  we are in a new chapter having recently adopted a new kitten from the shelter.  For more information click@ https://nickspecialneeds.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/blog-105-furry…needs-families   She has been here for a few weeks and is settling in well.

We decided to name her Kibbie……

Kibbie

Kibbie is a 5 month old tabby.  At first she was jumpy when Nick made his loud noises. But like the rest of us, those stimming sounds and yells are becoming white noise to Kibbie as well. (Well for the most part) 🙂  I am working on getting Nick to dangle the wands and throw cat toys for her to fetch.  He is also serving her food dish each evening.  My heart swells when Nick plants kisses on her head.  I posted a video last Friday on the Facebook Page (Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism).  There is also a video of the kitten playing fetch posted the week before.

It looks like the two of them are getting along nicely……… (yes we like taking sleeping photos in my family)

Kibbie and Nick

According to Brain Balance Centers, (http://www.brainbalancecenters.com), “The right family-friendly pet may be just what your child needs to better cope with daily stressors and other overwhelming sources of stimulation. Owning a pet may help ease these daily anxieties and help to better facilitate socialization and understanding. It may also benefit a child who struggles with sensory, social or behavioral issues.”  I look forward to sharing the new adventures of Nick and Kibbie with you.  Stay tuned for this and most likely a third installment of “Stuff On My Cat”.  Thank you for reading and sharing Nick’s world (and humoring me when I write about cats).  That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂

 

~Teresa

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs

Blog #87~Special Needs Parent Checklist for Visiting a New School

Blog #87~Special Needs Parent Checklist for Visiting a New School  

It’s almost spring…… that time of year when the scent of IEP’s are in the air.  IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan.

brace yourself IEP

The team as a whole looks at the student’s current level of functioning and together design goals and supports needed to provide appropriate education for the student.  The placement of a child with special needs should always be in the least restrictive environment possible.

Nick has Down syndrome and autism.  He uses a visual schedule to navigate through the school…….

APE swimming 006 (4)

Parents with a child who has special needs can arrange to visit schools and see what the classroom environment looks like.   Here are some tips and helpful questions that should be asked on the tour.  I would suggest designating one notebook to take to any meetings and trainings related to your child with special needs.

My trusty, battered notebook……. 🙂

IMG01

Questions to ask on school visit: 

*What are the location, size and physical layout of the classroom(s)?

*How many students are in the classroom?  What is the ratio of students: adults?

*What instructional methods and materials will be used?

*How will the curriculum be modified for a student with special needs?

*What assistive technology is available?

*What behavior techniques and plans will be used?

*What does the school day look like?  (Ask for a printed schedule and to sit in on classes.)

*What kinds of inclusion opportunities do children in special education classrooms have to interact with general education students? 

Observation of class and school:   

*Watch the dynamics of the classroom.  How does the teacher interact with students?  Does the teacher individualize instruction? 

*What activities were children engaged? Would they be appropriate for your child?

*Do the classrooms and staff seem cheerful?

*Is student work displayed and is the classroom organized or would it be too distracting for your child?

*Are the curriculum, equipment, technology and educational supports up to date?

*How well are the facilities maintained? (Clean bathrooms, lighting, safe grounds, etc…)

*Is there a sensory room available in the classroom or school building? 

Once a school and classroom placement decision is made be sure and get pictures or do a video of the new setting for your child.  This social story should include the entry, locker, classrooms, lunch room, gym and any other relevant areas the child will be using in the school.  Review the social story or video several times before the first day of classes.

Here’s Nick visiting the middle school back in 6th grade. He was skeptical about this new environment as indicated by not wanting to remove his coat and keeping it zipped up to the top……..

Nick at Granger

As a parent of a child with special needs, remember that you know your child best.  You have the right to get in there and see what the classroom environment looks like in order to make an informed decision at your child’s IEP meeting.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs

Blog #19~ Back to School Tips for Special Needs Kids

Back-to-School

Blog #19~ Back to School Tips for Special Needs Kids

I love scrolling the Facebook wall and seeing all of the first day of school pictures.  Kids all spiffed up in their new back to school clothes and shiny shoes.  Leaving the subdivision last Thursday, I glanced over at the bus stop filled with elementary kids and their parents all with cameras in hand.  As moms that is what we do, take that moment and freeze frame it.

I did my share of taking those pictures, Nick, age 6….

      

Spiffy!

It’s hard to believe that Nick is starting his senior in high school. He has Down syndrome and autism and is in a self contained classroom.   And yes, I did take a picture of him.

It’s a little blurry because he was rocking back and forth.

I never get sad when Nick goes back to school.  In fact I do the happy dance celebrating my regained independence, (not to mention actually being able to hear the sound of a pin drop after the bus takes him away).

A couple of things have changed over the years. I don’t feel the need to have everything so perfect anymore. Also, his school supplies are no longer the typical things like rulers, scissors, pencils or wide ruled notebook paper.  His curriculum in the self-contained classroom has shifted from academic to functional.

Nick’s school supplies….

In last week’s blog, I mentioned that age brings wisdom and an AARP card application in the mail every few months. With 11 grade school years under my belt, here are my top 5 back to school tips for your  child with special needs:

  Top 5 Back to School Tips_

1. Get the haircut early, at least a week before the start of school.  Having a child with special needs often means a lot of sensory issues and angst over haircuts.  For Nick the stress of getting one can affect him for several days after.  See Blog #18, “A Cut Above” in the archives for more haircut tips.

2. Arrange a time to take your child to the classroom before school starts.  Video or take pictures of the classroom set up (desk area, sensory area, restrooms, etc..) along with the lockers, lunch room, gym and of the teachers & aids.  I create a social story using these, much like a blueprint of what his day will be like. If a child with autism can see it in picture form, they will understand it. It will also help to keep the anxiety level down.

3. Have your child help lay out the clothes, organize the school supplies and pick out lunch/snack choices the night before.  They will feel more invested, and it makes for a smoother start to the day.

4. Arrange the mode of communication with the teacher ahead of time at the meet and greet. I found that e-mail is the best way to go. In addition, I use a communication notebook that goes back and forth to school.  I can jot down how Nick’s evening went and how he slept.   In addition, the teacher and I created a custom report in a visual form.  Nick is able to point to the icons and share what he did each day with me after school.

5. Consider doing volunteer work at your child’s school.  It’s fun and you can see firsthand how your child is doing and interacting with peers. Here are some volunteer activities I’ve done:

*Room mom helping with parties

*Chaperoning on field trips

*Art awareness presenter each month

*Working book fairs

*Making copies, laminating,  and putting together learning tools for the Case Manager/Support Teachers.

Getting organized, planning ahead, becoming involved in the classroom and communicating with the staff will help make this year a success for your child with special needs. Good luck with the new school year! That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂

~Teresa