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

Blog #172~ Autism:5 Ways You Can Help

Blog #172~ Autism: 5 Ways You Can Help

The aim of Autism Awareness Month, is to educate the public about autism.  How do you react when you see or meet a person that has autism?  Autism is a complex mental condition and developmental disability, characterized by difficulties in the way a person communicates and interacts with other people.  People with autism are classed as having Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and the terms autism and ASD are often used interchangeably. A wide spectrum disorder, people will autism have set of symptoms unique to themselves; no two people are the same.

autism awareness 2016

My son Nick is 23 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS -ASD). During the month of April, I want to touch on autism awareness and acceptance.  Since the aim this month is to educate the public about autism, I would like to challenge you to open your mind and heart to individuals with autism, along with their families and caregivers.

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Here are 5 easy things you can do to show acceptance and support for autism:

*Open your heart, give a smile to a family struggling out in public with a child or adult who has autism. Offer up good thoughts and prayers , for compassion, strength, patience and tolerance.

*Reach out, pay a compliment or offer help, to a family who might be dealing with a difficult situation with their child.  “You have a lovely family.” “You are a wonderful parent, I admire your patience.”  If you encounter a family going through a tough time, such as a meltdown, or if the child is shutting down, ask them “What can I do to help?”

*Be a friend, make a phone call to check in, set up a coffee or lunch date, or offer to help out with carpooling or running an errand.  Bring a bottle of wine or a Starbucks latte, over and chat.  Many parents may not get a chance to speak to other adults on a daily basis and often feel isolated.

*Teach your child about inclusivity.  Invite a classmate with autism, over for a play date or to your child’s birthday party.  Show that they are genuinely welcome, even if their child can only tolerate a short time.  Look into inclusion opportunities for your child at school like lunch buddy or peer partner programs and volunteering for Special Olympics.  These are all ways to teach your child to be kind and compassionate.

It’s great to see that Sesame Street just added a new muppet, Julia who has autism!

Julia Sesame Street

*Stand up and advocate, if you overhear someone saying something inconsiderate about autism or any other disability, speak up. Some people may not understand the unusual behaviors exhibited by individuals with autism. Some of these behaviors are sensory related. For example rocking and hand flapping is a coping mechanism that helps organize the brain.  Some individuals with autism become overwhelmed in stimulating environments. This may lead to a person shutting down or having a meltdown. Better understanding of such behaviors and their causes, leads to  You can help advocate by sharing information about autism on your social media.

Awareness and acceptance means allowing yourself and teaching others to be open, compassionate and kind.  Acceptance is not about tolerating others that are different from you.  It is about valuing our differences as human beings, and seeing the heart and strengths that lies in each of us.  That’s what is in my noggin during Autism Awareness Month.

~Teresa 🙂

Follow Nick:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram @ #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall





Posted in Autism, Down syndrome

Blog #76~Social Skills and Autism

Blog #76~ Social Skills and Autism

A few weeks ago I did a guest lecture at Northern Illinois University. The graduate level class topic was “Functional Communication Skills and Social Skills” from a parent perspective.

NIU at  WCC Sugar Grove Campus

Bodie Hall Waubonsee Community College
Blog #73 covered the topic of communication skills as it relates to autism. This week I will cover how to incorporate social skills for individuals with autism. Nick has Down syndrome and autism. It makes for an interesting mix because his verbal speech is lacking, yet he is very outgoing.

Here some of the ways in which his teachers have incorporated opportunities to practice social skills:

*Lunch bunch groups in school-play board games, practice turn taking, boundaries.

*Community outings to grocery store, library, mall, and eating out.

*School and community jobs

*Practice self-regulation through his behavior plan. Work in a controlled setting on  what triggers his outbursts.

*Social Groups tailored for kids/teens with autism

*Best Buddies Program- monthly meetings, parties, bowling, movies, dances, etc…

Nick trying a hat at Jewel Osco Grocery Store 🙂 ………..

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All of these opportunities have helped Nick to behave more appropriately when out in the public. When Nick was in middle school he went to each classroom and emptied the recycling bins. He was able to practice greeting students. At the end of the semester, the students made thank you card for Nick: IMG01

Having peer role models is very valuable in this process. At his recent school conference his teacher commented that Nick was quite “restaurant savvy.”

Nick’s all aboard for lunch with his classmates 🙂

All Aboard Diner 4-23-10 006

Children and teens with autism can benefit in participating in social skills groups. These groups have not been a fit for Nick because he lacks the verbal skills. They tend to be suited for higher functioning persons with autism who have speech. Check with community autism support groups, speech therapy clinics and schools to find a one in your area.

Here is a sampling of topics that might be covered in a social group for individuals with autism:

*Interventions for hitting/biting and conflict resolution

*Handling transitions

*Asking friends to play and what to do if they don’t want to play with you.

*Turn taking in general conversation.

*Facilitating cooperative play- taking turns, practicing patience coping with losing a game

*Dealing with large crowds, busy settings and stimulus overload.

*Initiating a variety of conversational topics – Sometimes intense, restricted interests result in sticking with only their preferred topics (like dinosaurs, academy award winning movies, etc..)

*Working on conversations that reciprocate the interests of others in the group.

*Providing needed information based on a partner’s knowledge of the topic – Gauging length of conversational turn and working on noticing the cues others send us so we can adjust the length of our conversational turn.

Currently, Nick participates in the post-secondary transition program. His schedule  includes community trips to the store, library, mall walking, cooking, vocational jobs and move and groove (dance party) along with the regular curriculum. The STEPS program also has dances and recreational trips after school from time to time. As you can see, there are  many occasions built in his schedule to practice social skills. It is essential to keep Nick’s world open and provide opportunities to socialize.

This past weekend his brother came home from college. I found it touching that Nick wanted to hang out upstairs in Hank’s room a lot of the time he was here.

Nick with his brother a few years back…..


Having a child with autism doesn’t mean you have to close yourself off to the world. Look for ways to get out there and mingle. That’s what is in my noggin this week! 🙂