Posted in Behavior/ ABA, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, IEP (Indivdualized Education Plan)

Blog #179~Down syndrome and Autism-Unlocking Your Child’s Potential

Blog #179~Down syndrome and Autism-Unlocking Your Child’s Potential

When your child has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism, the game changes.  Speech may be limited or even non-verbal, which may lead to behavior problems.  Sensory issues can be extreme and interfere with social interactions and learning.  My son, Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  His speech is limited, and he is a sensory seeker.  Over the years, with the help of some amazing teachers, therapists, and autism behaviorist specialists, he has developed skills which have allowed him to contribute both working in his adult day program, and here at home.

So how do you find the key to unlock your child’s potential?

padlock-unlocked_318-40940The key lies in identifying your child’s strengths, and working to build upon them.  First of all, just because my son’s speech is limited doesn’t mean he can’t communicate.  One of Nick’s assets is his receptive language, which is the ability to understand information.  Many of his goals in his IEP (Individualized Education Plan), were planned around using this strength when he was in school.  Nick was able to develop skills to become more independent in self-help, and other jobs both at home and school.  These skills were enhanced by using educational materials and supports that were written into his IEP.  Such materials included a PECS book (Picture Exchange Communication System) with training for staff, parents and child, Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) devices,  task strips, social stories, a picture schedule, video modeling, and a reward system.  All of these supports helped Nick to navigate his routine and built upon his functional and independent livings skills.

APE swimming 006 (4)

Besides his receptive language, Nick’s other strengths are his desire to please and take the initiative.  He is a taskmaster!  When Nick was younger, his teachers pointed out how good he was at matching.  A lot of his goals were structured around this.  Nick has always had a keen eye, and notices where everything goes around the house.  Anytime the batteries died on one of his musical toys, he would go to the kitchen drawer, pull out the screwdriver and hand it to me with the toy.  As he grew older, I recall him nudging his older brother over to help unload the dishwasher.  He knew which cabinet every single plate, cup, pot, pan and utensil were stored.  Shortly thereafter, I let him take over the chore (with no complaints from his older brother, Hank). 🙂

Nick still takes great pride in unloading the dishwasher today!

Nick dishwasher two

Here are some other ways the taskmaster takes initiative:

Nick getting out ingredients and utensils for his salad….

Nick dinner prep

As soon as he saw the pan of water on the stove, he went to the pantry and pulled out the ingredients to make pasta…..

Nick past cooking

Using his strength of taking the initiative, we have built upon this to create other jobs both at home and in the community.  When he was in school, his teachers recognized his sensory seeking needs and channeled them by doing “heavy work”.  An occupational therapist can assist with ideas to implement a sensory diet into your child’s routine. Nick likes to throw and swipe things (and still does).  It has helped to find activities with heavy work or that mimic this sensory need.

Here are a few of the jobs that does:

*Recycling (replacement behavior for throwing)

*Can crushing (sensory and motor activity and replacement behavior for throwing)

*Carry laundry basket and load washing machine (heavy work/ organizing)

*Put away groceries (organizing activity)

*Empty Dishwasher (organizing and sensory activity)

*Cleaning/ wiping down countertops and windows (organizing activity)

*Vacuuming (heavy work which is calming)

Nick working at a residence facility in high school….

Nick vacumming_Tabor Hills (3)

Nick doing volunteer work at GiGi’s playhouse with in his current adult day program…

nick-cleaning-gigis

There is so much your child can learn when you identify their strengths and unique talents.  When you find what motivates your child, you can build and expand upon it.  Work with your child’s IEP team, therapists and autism specialist, to identify those areas.  Then together as a team, create a plan with specific and measurable goals, that will enable your child to grow and be successful.  Unlock your child’s potential, and watch them soar!  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, 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:

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

Update~Nick’s World

Update~Nick’s World

I just got back from a routine doctor’s appointment for Nick.  He completely enjoyed imitating the coughing and throat clearing sounds the gentlemen next to us in the waiting room.  Since the morning has dwindled away, I am opting to give you and update on Nick’s world instead of pulling something out of my noggin to write.  Nick is 21 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  Here’s a little slice of his world and what he’s been up to (besides imitating others hacking and sneezing)………

Nick attends a post-secondary transition program called STEPS.  His days are full of work jobs,  occupational and speech therapy, cooking, community trips and other school-related activities.  A big thank you to Jodi, who took many of these pictures of Nick’s world.

Nick helps to make ice packs which he delivers to the schools in our district….

Nick delivery

Ding dong, ding dong, ding dong, guess who’s here?

Nick delivery 2

Community trip bowling…..

Nick bowling ramp

Sensory break time at school……

Nick relaxing.jpg

Dinner with his buddies at Ci Ci’s Pizza……

Nick Ci Ci's

Visit to WVHS Wrestling Team venue, he had to try on the headgear 🙂

Nick Wrestling

Nick dancing in Miss R’s (respite worker) boots….

Nick Dancing

Nick the “winter ninja” relaxing at home…..

Nick Winter Ninja

As you can see, Nick has a very full life which he enjoys every day.  I have to thank his respite workers for taking such good care of him and getting him out into the community.  That’s a slice of Nick’s world and what’s in my noggin this week! 🙂

~Teresa

 

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Education and Special Needs, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #8~ Three Scary Letters: IEP

Blog #8~ Three Scary Letters: IEP

Who would think that the 3 letters IEP could evoke anxiety and trepidation in the hearts of many parents of children with special needs?  IEP stands for Individualized Education Plan.  I used to be one of those scared and frail kittens shaking as I walked into the doorway.  My son, Nick has Down syndrome and autism.  I’ve been through my share of IEP meetings and learned a great deal on how to handle them.  I heard my share of war stories:

“Watch out they will try and get away with cutting your service hours!”

“Why would they do that?”

“Oh the budget constraints and pressure from the school district, that’s why. They are going to say the teacher can address the issues and you don’t need the additional speech therapy hours.”

So enter the neophyte parents into the doorway to face the army of personnel from the school.  The IEP team usually consists of the classroom teacher, case manager, occupational therapist, speech therapist, adapted PE teacher, school counselor, social worker, school nurse and a student services representative. Oh and yes, the parents too. 🙂  I can recall many in the early days crammed in tightly around a table and feeling very clueless in the early days.   The IEP meeting is intended to be a team effort, but sometimes we couldn’t help but feel like it was them against us.

What an IEP exactly?  Here is some information from Wikipedia:

An IEP is designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child, who may have a disability, as defined by federal regulations. The IEP is intended to help children reach educational goals more easily than they otherwise would.  In all cases the IEP must be tailored to the individual student’s needs as identified by the IEP evaluation process, and must especially help teachers and related service providers (such as paraprofessional educators) understand the student’s disability and how the disability affects the learning process. 

The IDEA 2002 requires that an IEP must be written according to the needs of each student who meets eligibility guidelines under the IDEA and state regulations, and it must include the following:

  • The child’s present levels of academic and functional performance
  • Measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals
  • How the child’s progress toward meeting the annual goals are to be measured and reported to the parents
  • Special education services, related services, and supplementary aids to be provided to the child
  • Schedule of services to be provided, including when the services are to begin, the frequency, duration and location for the provision of services
  • Program modifications or supports provided to school personnel on behalf of the child
  • Least Restrictive Environment data which includes calculations of the amount of time student will spend in regular education settings verses time spent in special education settings each day
  • Explanation of any time the child will not participate along with nondisabled children
  • Accommodations to be provided during state and district assessments that are necessary to the measuring child’s academic and functional performance
  • The student should attend when appropriate. If the student is over 14 they should be invited to be part of the IEP team.
  • Additionally, when the student is 16 years old, a statement of post-secondary goals and a plan for providing what the student needs to make a successful transition is required. This transition plan can be created at an earlier age if desired, but must be in place by the age of 16.

IEPs also include other pertinent information found necessary by the team, such as a health plan or a behavior plan for some students.

The IEP can be daunting on paper, or shall I say more like a ream of paper averaging for Nick around 50 pages total.  The biggest tip I can share is to request all of the reports and intended goals prior to the meeting for your review.  In addition, I suggest meeting with the case manager at least a month before the meeting to discuss proposed goals that will be in the education plan.  That way there are no surprises at the IEP meeting.  If the parent and teacher have a good communication system back and forth there shouldn’t be any.  (For additional support, go to the links and resource pages on this website and look under Wrightslaw, Bridges for Kids-IEP goals and Barb Bateman’s book, Better IEP’s.)

Over the years we have utilized outside advocacy when we felt like the needs of our son might be compromised.  Rewind to 1998 in Houston, when Nick was attending a public pre-school program twice a week and a private special needs pre-school three days a week.  (This was before we could get him in the private school full time). We brought an entourage of very strong women from the private school to advocate for Nick.  Our advocates dissected that IEP and insured that all supports were in place down to the last detail.  That being a nubby rubber cushion for Nick to sit on to keep his core activated and him alerted.  I was floored at the way they spoke up for our son.  I would have never known to boldly ask for these things.

Nick at The Arbor School in Houston, Texas……

The presence of an outside advocate walking in with you at an IEP meeting can certainly make the team members sit up and be on point.  Memorable meeting number two was in 2001 when lived in the east bay area of Northern California. Nick’s language was minimal and he was getting frustrated not being able to communicate verbally.   On this particular occasion we were being met with resistance with regards to the school providing a proper picture communication system and training of staff and parents.  Enter the Executive Director of The Down syndrome Connection by our side.  (DSC is the local Down syndrome support group)  The school’s Physical Therapist asked if she could report first as she had another meeting to attend.  The Social Worker raised her hand and asked if she could go second and then excuse herself.

Without blinking an eye,  the DSC Director calmly said, “Wait a minute, we are all here to discuss Nick’s future, right?  We only have this meeting once a year. The least you can do is stay and be a contributing member to this team.”

No one dared to leave that meeting.  Oh, and yes the communication specialist was immediately put in place to help with the picture communication system for Nick.

Nick in California

There is only one word for these advocates and the others that followed…..Rock Stars!

I have learned from the best.  The frail kitten morphed into a lion that can roar.  Why, because I have to fight for him because he has no voice. I know Nick the best and what works for him.  I don’t have to agree with the team.  In my matter of fact approach I simply state my parent concerns and have them put in writing in the IEP.  So parents, if you don’t agree, then push your chair back, state that you don’t agree and do not sign it. You may have to take it to the next level if you get a push back.  That’s when you use the two words that can evoke the most fear…Due Process!  (Thank you Kendra, Nick’s Private Occupational Therapist for giving me the courage to do these things.)

Nick at private occupational therapy with Kendra

More fun with Kendra

And please, do not call me “The Mom”, or “Nick’s Mom.”  The name is Mrs. Unnerstall.  Yes, IEP meetings can be scary.  But parents, don’t be fraidy cats.  Just get prepared!   Request those reports and goals ahead of time.  Schedule a meeting with the case manager before hand to make sure you are on the same page.  Communicate with the teacher so there are no surprises.  And finally if you don’t feel supported, then bring an advocate to the meeting.   That’s what is in my noggin this week.  Until next Monday, may you find the inner lion within you and fight the good fight!

~Teresa