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

Blog #246~ DS-ASD at the NDSC Convention 2022

Blog #246~DS-ASD at the NDSC Convention 2022

Being a parent of a child with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD), can often feel isolating. The complex needs of speech deficits, sensory and behavior concerns related to co-occurring DS-ASD make parents feel like they don’t fit into the Down syndrome or autism support groups. For the longest time I avoided going to the Down syndrome functions and conferences for this very reason. I know that other families have felt the same about not fitting into the DS groups. It is a lonely feeling. My son Nick is 28 years old and has DS-ASD. What I have since learned is that you have to align yourself with like minded individuals who truly understand this unique journey. In addition, it’s important to process the secondary diagnosis of autism with Down syndrome and get to a place of acceptance in your own time. While this path is different, there is both help and hope now available compared to 15+ years ago when Nick got the secondary diagnosis.

There was much to celebrate at the National Down Syndrome Congress 50th Annual Convention (NDSC) held in New Orleans last month in person. This week, I want to share this experience and why it was so important for DS-ASD families and those wanting to learn more about a dual diagnosis.

Since the publication of my book, A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism in 2020, I have been presenting information about my journey with Nick and providing strategies, tools and interventions to support individuals with DS-ASD.

Click here to order:  https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X

The Deep Dive presentation was a comprehensive presentation: Down Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder Clinical Features and Treatment and Intervention Strategies, was led by physician Dr. Nicole Baumer, psychologist Dr. Lina Patel and myself.

This presentation provided valuable information on how to tease out signs and symptoms of what autism looks like in individuals with Down syndrome. In addition, we offered many strategies and interventions to support communication, behavior and sensory needs associated with co-occurring DS-ASD.

The NDSC exhibit hall was a high energy whirlwind of agencies and rock stars of the Down syndrome world. The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection booth was busy with our staff and board of directors answering questions, listening to stories and connecting with others wanting to know more about a dual diagnosis.

The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection: A Lifeline for a Lifetime more at http://ds-asd-connection.org/
The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection’s Rock Stars: Executive Director Charlotte Gray and President, Jeanne Doherty fielding questions and networking at the NDSC Exhibit Hall booth.

Some more of the Rock Stars of the Down Syndrome World at NDSC Convention 2022:

Heather Avis author, podcaster and advocate with The Lucky Few more at https://www.heatheravis.com/about
Noah’s Dad and Hope Story Advocates Rick and Abbie Smith more at https://hopestory.org
Advocate and author Tim Harris more at https://www.globaldownsyndrome.org/news-community/quincy-jones-exceptional-advocacy-award-recipients/tim-harris/

Sophia Sanchez, actress, model, author, advocate and influencer more at http://www.sofia-sanchez.com/bio
Trailblazer, advocate and author David Egan more at https://davideganadvocacy.com
GiGi and Nancy Gianni of Gi’Gi’s Playhouse. More at https://www.gigisplayhouse.org/
Ruby’s Rainbow provides scholarships to individuals with DS for higher education. More at https://rubysrainbow.org/about/

The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection hosted a panel discussion, DS-ASD The Real Deal a Parent Panel, which provided a safe space to ask questions, share ideas and strategies. The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection is the gold standard, national organization serving the DS-ASD community since 2007. More at http://ds-asd-connection.org/

The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection Parent Panel at NDSC 2022

The final presentation that I gave was, a DS-ASD 3-21 Toolkit of Strategies which offered practical ideas, take home strategies and ways to support individuals with a dual diagnosis. These included the three areas impacted by autism in Down syndrome including communication, behavior and sensory needs. One example of a strategy that I suggested, is to teach your child the concept of time and having to wait. How do you teach this?

*Use visual supports like PECS icons/or a clock picture and non-verbal gesture of pointing to your wrist, indicating a wrist watch.

*Pair this with a timer app like Countdown Timer or Time Timer.

* Always introduce this concept by teaching first in low stress environments and build from there. Ex/ Low stress: Waiting for shower water to warm up: “Good waiting” and point to wrist. Then, build to higher stress: Child is hungry and there is extra long line at Taco Bell. You see that they are impatient and showing stress. Point to wrist and/or set the timer app, reinforce “Good listening Nick thank you for waiting, yay”!

This is just one of many ideas from my DS-ASD 3-21 toolkit. 🙂

Teresa Unnerstall, author, speaker and advocate at NDSC presentation

I would like to commend the National Down Syndrome Congress for including these important DS-ASD presentations at the NDSC convention. It is so critical for families and professionals to see what autism looks like in Down syndrome and how to effectively provide interventions, strategies and support for the additional challenges for DS-ASD individuals and their families.

Thank you NDSC for allowing me the opportunity to share information, help and inspire others who are on this journey. The DS-ASD community appreciates having a representation at the NDSC convention and in your organization.

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

~Teresa

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

Blog #245~DS-ASD Update

Blog #245~DS-ASD Update

What does life look like now for Nick since the pandemic hit over 2 years ago? It’s very different, uncomplicated and often redundant. Sometimes it feels like the movie Ground Hog Day, with the same thing happening over and over. It’s not a sad life, it’s just a different life. My son is 28 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). This week, I want to paint a picture of what life is like for Nick and our family these days and how we make his days meaningful so he knows his value and worth.

For 10 years I wrote diligently and posted a blog each Monday. Then the pandemic hit and Nick’s adult developmental day training program shut down. Well over 2 years later, he still sits idle on their waiting list hoping to get back in. Part of the reason my blogs have been sporadic is due to taking care of Nick at home, while I continue to work. This is no easy feat when you are trying to tune out the many sounds of autism. Since my book, A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism, was published in May of 2020, many doors have opened up to presentations, workshops, webinars and podcasts. It has been very rewarding doing these projects and sharing strategies on how to navigate co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. Later this month I will be presenting in person at the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC) in New Orleans!

Order on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X

So, here’s a look at our new normal for the past two years. For most of us, this has been remote work, Zoom presentations and meetings which has been a great vehicle to reach a large audience across the country. Creating these presentations doesn’t feel like work, it’s exciting and creative. But, it can be difficult to concentrate when your son is constantly tapping, verbal stimming, pushing the microwave fan button, throwing things and running the water faucets. Nick also goes down some interesting YouTube rabbit holes. Lately he’s been diving down to find some real “gems”. This includes finding Thomas the Tank Engine the dark side, (picture Thomas with a black eye and goatee and guns blazing). Another gem has been fire alarm testing. Despite our efforts to clear the history on YouTube, he keeps finding those blaring alarms. It’s obviously fulfilling a sensory need he craves. Better on his iPad and not on a real fire alarm. 🙂

As I mentioned earlier, Nick’s day program has been a no go due to staffing shortages. It’s devasting to see that individuals with disabilities who are the most vulnerable, can’t get into day programs. Despite hefty signing bonuses being offered, many day programs continue to struggle with staffing. We have done our best to create some structure at home and provide him with personal support workers who assist him at home and with community activities outside the house. Structured teaching activities benefits include developing and maintaining educational and fine motor skills.

Structured Teaching Activities
Activities include matching, sorting office supplies and puzzles

Nick also has several jobs around the house which include unloading the dishwasher, recycling, vacuuming, and helping to prepare meals. These jobs along with the structured teaching activities are meaningful and bolster his confidence.

Nick unloading the dishwasher
Working at home

In addition to in home activities, Nick also enjoys going out into the community with his personal support workers. Having respite care is important for families, so each member gets a break and can go out and enjoy time on their own.

Fun at the Park
Lunch date with personal support worker

The new normal at home with Nick is working largely due to having wonderful personal support workers and offering meaningful activities. We have looked into other day programs, but most have waiting lists or lack the staffing to accommodate Nick’s needs. So, we just keep leaning into the new normal and doing the best we can to find balance in both our work and Nick’s needs. As a mom, it gives me comfort to hear him say “happy” and lean into life at home. Even if it does include those trips down the YouTube rabbit hole.

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

~Teresa

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Posted in Down syndrome, Down Syndrome Awareness, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Blog #240~ October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Blog #240~October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

down-syndrome-awareness-month

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. My son, Nick is 27 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). As a parent, writer and advocate, my mission is to educate others to better understand more about Down syndrome and autism. Down syndrome awareness is about promoting understanding, acceptance and inclusion of all individuals with Down syndrome in all aspects of our society.

Click here to get the facts about Down syndrome: http://www.ndss.org/Down-Syndrome/What-Is-Down-Syndrome/

Here’s how YOU can promote Down syndrome awareness and acceptance:

🙂 Post information and stories about individuals with Down syndrome on your social media platforms. You can follow many inspiring individuals on Facebook and Instagram like Nick at #Down Syndrome with a Slice of Autism. Here are a few of my favorites: #noahsdaddotcom #calebs_crew #brittanysbaskets #chrisnikic #dsdn #chucklesandmeatloaf #nothingdownaboutit #sean_from_born_this_way #troymadeit #abigail_the_advocate #theluckyfew #aceismyfriend

🙂 If you are a parent of a child with Down syndrome, send updates, pictures and tell your story to your family doctor and OB/GYN. Consider becoming a Hope Advocate-You will get a custom hope kit to distribute to your OB/GYN and family doctor. More information https://hopestory.org/sign-up/

🙂 Your local Down syndrome support groups have promotional materials, like books and bookmarks that can be distributed at libraries and schools.

🙂 Down syndrome support groups have public speakers available to talk with schools, businesses, community groups, hospitals, and other organizations.

🙂 Support or volunteer for local fundraisers like the Buddy Walk in your community https://www.ndss.org/play/national-buddy-walk-program/ .

🙂 The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection is the gold standard organization supporting DS-ASD families @ http://www.ds-asd-connection.org/. I am looking for 21 people to donate just $21 for the 3-2-1 Caring and Sharing fundraiser to directly help families navigating a dual diagnosis. Click here to donate @ https://givebutter.com/l6BUl8/teresaunnerstall

🙂 Encourage your kids to volunteer for Special Olympics and Best Buddies programs through their school.

🙂 Use and promote “person first language” to respectively speak about a person with a disability. Individuals with Down syndrome should always be referred to as people first. Instead of “a Down syndrome child,” it should be “a child with Down syndrome.” Also avoid “Down’s child” and describing the condition as “Down’s,” as in, “He has Down’s.”

🙂 My book A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism is helping so many readers understand both Down syndrome and a co-occurring Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). It’s available on Amazon, plus there are share buttons you can utilize for social media to help spread awareness. Order and donate a copy to your local library @ https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is a-new-course-book-cover-multiple-books.jpg
Order your copy today at https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X

Thank you for supporting and sharing all about Down syndrome awareness this month! That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram @nickdsautism

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

Blog #239~ Back to School Tips for DS-ASD Families in 2021

Blog #239~Back to School Tips for DS-ASD Families in 2021

As the 2021-2022 School year approaches after a lengthy Covid-19 lockdown, many families feel anxiety about returning to school. Families who have a child with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD) have additional challenges and needs to consider.

My name is Teresa Unnerstall, I am a DS-ASD parent, consultant and author of A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism. My son Nick is 27 years old and my passion is to help families, educators, therapists, medical professionals and anyone interested in supporting individuals with co-occurring DS-ASD.

Order your copy on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X

This week, I want to offer some practical tips to help families ease back to school. Whether you are in person or remote, the goal should be a smooth transition for students.

Here are my 10 Back to School Tips:

1. Prepare the student with a visual countdown calendar, and re-instate morning/evening routines before school starts.

2. Tour the school with your child. Then, create a social story or video social story of the school settings and staff that the student will be interacting with. Review this several times before school starts.

3. At the tour, whether it’s in person or virtual, ask the teacher to show you the Covid-19 safety precautions, accommodations and equipment that is listed in the IEP to make sure everything is in place.

First Then Visuals

Nick using the Smart Board

4. Prepare a student “About Me” profile sheet. There are many templates available online. You can include different sections such as, Things I love, My Strengths, What Works Best for Me, How to best support me, What Doesn’t Work for Me, and Interests. Make several copies to share with the staff.

5. Determine the modes of communication back and forth with the teacher and school staff. Examples include texting, email, communication logs/notebooks and daily report sheets. This is very important as many students with DS-ASD who have language deficits or may be non-verbal.

Daily Report Sheet

6. Review the child’s IEP to insure that all goals and accommodations are still relevant. Note any additional needs or concerns you have coming off of the summer break and remote learning. Share these with the staff at school.

7. If the student has a behavior support plan, check to see if this has been shared with all staff and is ready to put in place on day one. Make a list of any new target behaviors that may need to be addressed.

8. If the student uses AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) make sure the teacher and aides are familiar with how to use the program, whether it’s high tech or low tech like a picture exchange system (PECS). You can request a training for staff and parents on how to program devices, navigate tabs and get trained on how to utilize PECS with the school speech and language therapist or school district AAC specialists.

AAC Touch Chat Program

9. Students may have lost skills or experienced regression due to summer break and remote learning due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Evidenced-based practices help students regain lost skills and develop new ones. Some examples are using visuals, schedules, task strips, task analysis, first-then prompts, visual timers, choice boards and sensory breaks.

Sensory Break PECS Icon, Is there a sensory break area for students in your school?
Time Timer App
Choice Boards

10. Show your commitment by staying on top of your child’s progress. Ask for data within the first quarter. Data drives decision making for future conferences and IEP meetings. If possible, volunteer at school, (room parent, field trip chaperone, art awareness presenter, book fairs, picture day and assisting with making learning materials like laminating and making copies).

Being prepared, invested and aware of your child’s needs will help them reach their full potential for the new school year. As students re-enter school after a long break, let’s also remember to extend each other some grace, be flexible, and give time and space to establish the new normal, whether you are heading back into the classroom or working remotely.

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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Posted in Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism

Blog #237~Autism Acceptance Month

Blog #237~Autism Acceptance Month

There is a shift occurring this April with Autism Awareness Month. Let’s face it autism awareness doesn’t mean much without acceptance too. It’s not just a shift in the terminology of “autism awareness” to “autism acceptance”, you may notice new symbols like the rainbow infinity taking the place of the puzzle piece imagery (as many believe that the puzzle symbol evokes a negative connotation as a problem that needs to be solved). To keep you in the loop, the rainbow infinity sign represents neurodiversity, here’s more:

Rainbow Infinity Sign represents neurodiversity

“Neurodiversity is the idea that autistic people add diversity to the world, and that disability is part of the human experience. Neurodiversity advocates oppose the idea of an Autism “cure,” and want to focus more on helpful and respectful therapies. They believe that Autistic people should be accepted in society.” Autism Acceptance Month Call to Action: Commit to Being Inclusive. – Key Assets Kentucky

Whether it’s promoting with rainbow infinity symbols or puzzle pieces I think the emphasis should be on the movement from autism awareness to acceptance. My son Nick is 27 years old and has a co-occurring Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). According to Autism Speaks, “Over the next decade, an estimated 707,000 to 1,116,000 teens (70,700 to 111,600 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of school based autism services.” That is a staggering statistic as autistic children grow up to become adults in need of safe housing, medical care insurance, family (inclusive and accessible) public restrooms, meaningful employment and adult day program opportunities. Acceptance requires understanding along with providing supports and accommodations.

We need to accept the fact that 1 in 54 children born in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism and they along with their families need support and opportunities to be fully included in society. What if we celebrated differences and became more understanding of individuals with autism? For my son Nick, it would mean respecting his need for routine, sameness and space, to be accepting of his need to rock, sway, flap his hands and make verbal stimming sounds to help keep himself regulated. It would also mean looking beyond these self-stimulatory behaviors to see his unique abilities and strengths.

This Autism Acceptance Month I challenge you to do more than just be aware of autism. Here are a few suggestions:

*Read and share books about autism like my book A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism available on Amazon at: https://amzn.to/2W3Un6X

*Follow The Autism Discussion Page on Facebook where you will gain a better insight some of the challenges associated with autism. Bill Nason has a series of books that are toolkits to individuals with autism feel safe, accepted and competent: Autism Discussion Page on the Core Challenges of Autism: A Toolbox for Helping Children with Autism Feel Safe, Accepted, and Competent: Nason, Bill: 9781849059947: Amazon.com: Books

*Read and share books with your children and local libraries: 30 Best Children’s Books About the Autism Spectrum (appliedbehavioranalysisprograms.com)

*Donate and join autism support groups like The Down Syndrome-Autism Connection which has been in operation since 2007, and is the only non-profit in the United States dedicated solely to co-occurring Down syndrome and autism. They have given over 2,000 families around the world a place to belong. This month you can donate to my team @ https://givebutter.com/xrKt9I. Learn more about the connection at http://www.ds-asd-connection.org.

*Show kindness and respect for how autistic individuals need to process the world around them and understand that they shouldn’t have to conform to the norms when expressing themselves.

This April for Autism Acceptance Month and moving forward, I encourage you to learn more about understanding autism. Understanding leads to acceptance. Let’s celebrate unique personalities and abilities and also show compassion for the challenges and struggles faced by individuals with autism and their families.

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Follow us at Down Syndrome with A Slice of Autism on Facebook and Instagram and @tjunnerstall on Twitter

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Education and Special Needs, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan), Parenting Special Needs

Blog #232~Special Needs Parent and Educator Help During Covid-19

Blog #232~Special Needs Parent and Educator Help During Covid-19

As a dual diagnosis DS-ASD writer and consultant, I’m scratching my head on how to help special needs families faced with the daunting task of implementing remote distance learning. This is an unprecedented time we are in facing with Covid-19. It’s like a continuous Ground Hog Day with no end in sight. My son Nick is 26 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD). He normally attends an adult developmental training program. His program has been closed since March. The focus at home has been to work on independent living skills. So what advice can I offer? What would I do if my son was still in school?

My short answer is this………

As an IEP team you have to collaborate together and think outside the box on how to navigate distance learning. That means asking for support, visuals, making addendums to the IEP, finding outside resources and therapies. Always lead with the child’s interests and strengths when implementing lessons and goals both at school and home.”

I am going to stay in my lane and introduce you to one of the top experts in navigating IEP’s. Catherine Whitcher’s podcast is packed with great advice on how parents and educators can work together to make education successful during the Covid-19 crisis. You won’t be disappointed and you will learn ALOT!!! 🙂 Click here to listen:

https://www.catherinewhitcher.com/blog/podcastcriticaliepdecisions

In this podcast, Catherine Whitcher explains that you can’t do an IEP meant to be implemented at school in the home. Here are a few key bullet points of her podcast:

*Keep track of what is being tried, what is working and not working.

*Collaborate together to come up with solutions, make adjustments and addendums to the IEP.

*Redefine what is appropriate for this current situation, then come up with a new plan.

You can follow Catherine on Facebook and Instagram where you will learn so much as I have over the years at https://www.catherinewhitcher.com/ She offers up to date, practical information in her blogs, podcasts and live feeds on social media.

Don’t wait for your child to get back into school to make up for lost time. Take action now to make the best out of distance learning by thinking outside the box, collaborating with the IEP team and working with your child’s strengths and interests. That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

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