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

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

Blog #178~ 5 Behaviors that have Improved with Age

Blog #178~ 5 Behaviors that have Improved with Age

The behaviors associated with autism has made for a very different journey than Down syndrome alone.  My son Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  I like many other parents, have been in the trenches dealing with some tough, scary and dangerous behaviors.  The good news is that many of these behaviors have improved with age!

Don’t get me wrong, Nick still has behaviors that we continue to work on.  But these 5 behaviors have greatly improved now that he is a young adult:

5 Behaviors that have Improved with Age

1-Eloping/Wandering

2-Haircuts

3-Meltdowns

4-Self-injury

5-Poop Smears

1-Eloping/Wandering

Yes, we have lost Nick a few times and it is one of the most frightening and heart pounding things a parent can experience.  Nick use to think it was funny to take off running.  This behavior has mellowed significantly, with the exception of when he spots a fire alarm.  He’s got a thing for pulling fire alarms, 44 times since third grade!

Big Guy, Nick…

Nick fire alarm shirt

Over the years we have put a few things in place to prevent this from happening.  You can access previous blogs with specific information on how to secure your home and child against wandering in by typing  Blog 142~Wandering and Autism” in the search box.  I still make sure that Nick is arm’s distance from me when out in public.  I also cue him with reminders to “Stay close”, “Big guys keep on walking”, and “Hands to self, Nick”.  Bottom line, now that Nick is older and understands the verbal cues, he doesn’t take off running for the heck of it.

2-Haircuts

There was a time when Nick flailed and put up a fight when getting a haircut.  It was a two-man effort that left us in a pool of sweat with Nick being red-faced and in tears.  Three things that have helped to make haircuts easier are using visuals, immediate rewards and investing in good hair clippers.  The visuals helped him to understand the sequence of events which lessened his anxiety and showed a positive ending to the experience with highly preferred rewards (Sprite and a shower).

haircut visual

Spending the extra money on a quality set of hair clippers helps to make the haircuts go smoother.  In the past several years, what was a two-man operation is easily done by Nick’s Dad, and with no tears or Sprite needed as a reward.

3-Meltdowns

Autism Spectrum Disorder can cause behavioral and developmental problems, one of which is outbursts, called autistic meltdowns.  For many years, especially during puberty, these meltdowns would cause injury such a pinching, bruising and skin cuts to us and those caring for our son.

meltdown

Working with a behaviorist specializing in autism has helped greatly.  Nick has a behavior plan in place that identifies all possible triggers and what to do to prevent a meltdown.  Now these meltdowns are much less frequent and manageable because of learned appropriate coping skills.  More often than not, these meltdowns can be avoided or quickly diffused.

4-Self-injury

Self-injurious behavior can be exhibited by people with developmental disabilities, including autism.  Such behaviors can include, (but not limited to) head-banging, hand-biting, and excessive self-rubbing and scratching.  Having Down syndrome and autism can often limit speech making it frustrating for your child to communicate.  Self-injurious behavior in itself is communicating something, (anger, frustration, fatigue, and  health issues to name a few).

No pinching

Getting a solid behavior plan in place, that identifies triggers that might set off self-injurious behaviors has helped enormously.  This can be done with the help of an autism behavior specialist.  Again, visual supports can help to manage behaviors before they escalate to cause injury.  School or private ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) specialist can customize visual supports and other strategies for your child.

Frustrated and Autism

Over the years we’ve identified the triggers that may cause self-injury, and sensing this frustration (for Nick it’s when he pinches his own cheek).  Using redirection and preventing escalation is the key to keeping self-injury to a minimum.

*Poop Smears

Probably the best news is that poop smears are a thing of the past!  There was a time when we were in the thick of it.  However, “Operation Code Brown” has been shut down. 🙂

poop icon

Toilet training has been by far one of the most challenging behaviors to work on having a child with Down syndrome and autism.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so be patient.  It requires just as much discipline on the parents part, (if not more) than your child.  We used the Azrin-Foxx Method of habit training as the basis of getting Nick fully trained.  This took many years and commitment but it CAN be done!

Things do get better with age.  These 5 behaviors have much improved, now that Nick is a young adult.  Getting support to address the autism piece has made a huge difference.  If you find yourself up against a wall, look for another solution utilizing the help of autism behavior specialist and the school staff.  Finally, try and be patient and rest assured that as your child gets older, these behaviors will improve.

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

~Teresa

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

Blog #166~ Lessons Learned on a Ski Slope

vail

Blog #166~ Lessons Learned on a Ski Slope

After a 27 year hiatus, I recently went on a ski trip to Vail, Colorado.  My older son, Hank had never skied before so we opted to take a lesson together.  Our instructor Brad, offered up many useful tips to help us navigate the slopes. Many of the things that Brad pointed out, can apply to raising a child with special needs.  My younger son, Nick is 22, and has Down syndrome and autism.  The daily challenges can weigh a parent down both physically and mentally.  That’s were the lessons I learned on a ski slope come in.

Lessons Learned on a Ski Slope…….

*If you point your ski’s too far uphill you are going to roll down…..

Over the years I’ve set goals for my son, Nick.  Many of these were aimed too high.  As a result, my expectations were not realistic, and Nick fell further back than I anticipated.  For example, during his elementary years Nick had a handwriting goal.  I was determined that he would be able to write his name and pushed hard for several year to keep it in his IEP.  This goal was my dream, but not Nick’s reality.  A pen or marker in Nick’s hands equals scribbling all over his skin and clothes.  I learned that you have to adjust your child’s goals to what is reasonable and attainable for them, and not for yourself.

*Don’t Fred Flintstone your feet…..

When you ski it’s important to shift the weight on your feet and apply the pressure at different points in order to make the turns.  If you dig in and “Fred Flintstone” your feet, the skiing becomes rigid and doesn’t glide naturally.  There has to be room for some give and take, when working with a child with special needs. It’s unfair to put pressure on your child to do everything you want, in a given day.  Sometimes you have to let that foot up and allow them to have room to understand, process, and do things in their own time. Take your foot off the brakes, otherwise, things will break down for your child.

fred-flintstone-feet

*Learn how to stop correctly…….

The day before our ski lesson, my son Hank went out with his Dad, Al, to try out skiing.  He came home very tired, cranky and discouraged due to going to fast, falling, and struggling to get back up.  During the ski lesson, he learned how to maneuver his body, and the proper ways to stop.  Afterwards, Hank had much more confidence and felt success.  If you push your child with special needs to do too much, they become frustrated as Hank did. This can lead to a risk of sensory  overload and potential meltdowns.  Recognize those signs of distress, and stop the activity before your child reaches a boiling point.

Hank and I with our ski instructor, Brad…..

vail-with-brad

*Relax and take in the scenery….

On the ski lift, our instructor Brad, encouraged me to put my ski’s up on the foot rest and relax.  He could sense that I was nervous about leaving the comfort of the bunny slope.  He reminded me to breathe, look around, and take in the beautiful scenery.  I think the same can be true in life with a child who has special needs.  The seamless schedule of doctor and therapy appointments, along with the pressure of working with them at home can get to be too much.   Nick had very low muscle tone, which is a trait of having Down syndrome.  I was constantly providing stimulating activities and exercises to get him stronger so he could roll over, crawl, sit up and walk.  Beyond gross motor skills, there was work to be done with feeding, speech and fine motor skills. The guilt of not feeling like you are doing enough for your child can burden a parent even more.  At some point, you have to just relax and not beat yourself up.  Take a breath and enjoy the beauty of your child for who they are.

My son, Nick……

nick-senior-alarm-pic

Skiing like many other sports offer lessons for us to learn in our lives.  That day on the slopes,  I was reminded about the importance of being flexible in what I expect from my son with Down syndrome and autism.  On the eve of his 23rd birthday, I reflect back on how far Nick has come.  I going to take a moment and breathe.  Like the backdrop of the blue sky against the snow covered Rocky Mountains,  I just want to take that in.  🙂 

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

happy-birthday-boys

Wishing both Nick and his Dad, Al a very Happy Birthday this week ……

al-and-nick-vail

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

Blog #151~OBX Vacation

Blog #151~OBX Vacation

What is OBX?  It’s an acronym for the Outer Banks.  OBX is a 130-mile stretch of barrier islands just off the coast of North Carolina. Along this coastline you will find quaint towns, sleepy fishing villages, lighthouses and a beautiful coastline lined with dunes covered in sea oats.

Sea Oats

OBX lighthouses

It’s the place to go and unwind, let go of worries, and relax.  The biggest decisions for me would be which swimsuit to put on along with what book and cold beverage to have in my hand.

OBX signs

For the past six years, our destination has been Duck, NC.  My son Nick, is 22 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  He absolutely loves to come here.  Vacations and travelling can be tough on our kids with special needs.  Having a regular vacation spot gives Nick predictability. This in turn makes him feel secure, thus keeping his anxiety level down.  New environments and being out of a routine can be tough for a person with special needs; especially autism.  Anxiety can lead to serious meltdowns.  We are fortunate to be able to return here to Nick’s Uncle and Aunt’s beach house. A place where Nick feels at home.

Nick and Uncle Ron at the crows nest…..

Nick and Ron OBX

Nick is comfortable in their house and helps out by vacuuming and unloading the dishwasher.  He loves swimming in the pool and soaking in the hot tub.

Nick with his “stim” of choice, the tappers.  My beverage of choice; a Lime-A-Rita 🙂

Nick pool obx

Sensory issues related to autism can be another challenge on vacations.  Nick struggles with the texture and unevenness of sand as well as extreme heat.  It can be hit or miss getting him to even walk out to the beach.  The weather conditions were just right this year, with mild 80 degree temps and a nice breeze to cut the heat.  He did well hanging with us all on the beach a few times.  He even dipped his toes in the surf; success!

Nick Beach OBX

The dynamic was different this year.  We missed some family members including Nick’s grandparents, his brother and cousin.  Health issues, a new job out of college and a summer internship kept them from coming.  We missed having everyone together, along with the laughs and good times we’ve shared over the years here.

Nick and his brother Hank, OBX 2011

Nick and his brother, Hank at the Outer Banks, NC

OBX 2011

OBX Family 2011

OBX is where we let the stress fade as the waves washed away worries.  We each find our ways to unplug; whether it’s fishing, biking, tennis, manicures, massages, swimming, sunbathing and cracking open a good summer read.

My book of choice, following the extraordinary journey of retired Secret Service Agent, Clint Hill with five Presidents.  I highly recommend reading Five Presidents (#1 New York Times Best Selling Authors, Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin)….

Five Presidents

The book is finished on OBX vacation, 2016.  Nick enjoyed his time there and still seems very happy.  We will take back some great memories, new tan lines and a good feeling of being restored.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa

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Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Down syndrome

Blog #112~Regression of Behaviors

 

Blog #112 Regression of Behaviors

Christmas 2014 was anything but merry.  The swimsuits, flip flops, suntan lotion and pool toys sat in a pile on the chasse in my bedroom.  We never made it to the Florida Keys for our vacation.  A member of our extended family came down with pneumonia and then a snowball effect of more health problems that included a 12 day stay in the hospital.  Nick wasn’t sure what to make of things.  He is 20 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  All he saw was his Dad or me taking off all day on hospital visits which were an hour away.  Nick picked up on the fact that something was very wrong.  He was sad and angry and missed being with the extended family.  We spent that two week break unsure of the outcome and shooting from the hip.  In 20 years of raising Nick, I have NEVER seen such a spike in regressive behaviors.

When daily routines are interrupted a child with autism can feel anxious and behaviors regress.  Strict routines, normalized school or work schedules without any unexpected occurrences enable a child with autism to progress best.  However, because the holidays are busy, stressful and filled with the hustle and bustle of foods, gifts, and family; a parent can expect to see behavioral changes.

Back to Nick and those behaviors that spiked, which included the following:

*Increased stimming with objects and louder vocal stimming

*Pushing microwave fan, phone intercom and now house alarm system much more

*Throwing objects and dumping things like a one man wrecking crew.

*Spitting and rubbing snot on flat screen TV, windows, on our clothing.

*Squirting liquid soap in his eyes, rubbing lotion all over himself

nick lotion

*Multiple, violent meltdowns

*Peeing his pants several times

And to top it off, I left a bottle of Febreeze out by accident………Oh nooooooo!

febreeze

FYI, Febreeze and a flat screen TV don’t mix well.  So, we had to purchase a new one……..

IMG_4203

By the way if you Google search “Febreeze on a flat screen TV” there are several entries of other kids doing this.  Nice to know we’re not alone. 🙂

I reported all of this in the school/home communication book.  The school staff wrote back that Nick was definitely not himself. He was trying to pull fire alarms, pinching his cheeks hard as well as a staff member.  To make matters worse, just as Nick was back in his school routine we had two snow days.  On top of that, the kids were off two more for the end of semester and MLK Day.  Oh, and there was a full moon over the holiday break.

autism and full moon

The house is quiet now, and I can focus on writing again. Yesterday, I did a little research on regression of behaviors and holiday breaks.  As I reflect on Christmas 2014, a couple of things stand out.  First of all, Nick’s behavior was magnified because his parents emotional fatigue and lack of emotional availability.  For over two weeks we were back and forth at the hospital.  Nick picked up on the stress.  Secondly, as a family we should have communicated in private about medical updates.  I think back on one particular day.  As I briefed Al on the hospital visit, Nick came over crying and wanted a hug. I had to remind myself that he understands much more of what we are talking about.  He also picks up on the negative vibes of conversations. Finally, one tip I read in my research was so obvious.  But when you are in the thick of things it can be overlooked.  That is, don’t let your kids be aimless.  It’s essential to find ways for them to occupy your child.  When kids are on a school break, they have less structure in their day. Bottom line, they’re going to get into more trouble and conflict because they have the opportunity to do so.

While there was no kayaking, bike rides, beach and pool time or key lime pie over Christmas we did make it through.  Things are slowly on the mend. The cousin’s presents and white elephant gifts are tucked away for now.  The Hormel Cure 81 Ham sits in the refrigerator awaiting a belated Christmas celebration at a later date. The gift of Christmas 2014 is being reminded of how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away.  In addition, I have a new perspective of how important it is to respect Nick’s needs when there is a school holiday break. That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa