Posted in Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Parenting Special Needs, Resources for Special Needs

Exclusive Author Interview- A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism

Exclusive Author Interview- A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism

A New Course Book Cover multiple books

My book A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism”  will launch next week on May 5, 2020! Pre-order your copy now on Amazon— My mission as an author and dual diagnosis consultant– is to make this journey smoother for families navigating a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD).

This week, an exclusive interview I did with Leslie Lindsay, the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012). Leslie has been awarded as one of the top 1% reviewers on GoodReads and recognized by Jane Friedman as one of the most influential book reviewers. Since 2013, Leslie has interviewed over 700 bestselling and debut authors on her author interview series. Follow her bookstagram posts @leslielindsay1. More about Leslie following interview below.

Check out this exclusive interview and get the behind the scenes scoop about my book, A New Course: A Mother’s Journey Navigating Down Syndrome and Autism:

Leslie Lindsay Book Picture

Artistic photo of book cover designed and photographed by Leslie Lindsay. Join her on Instagram @leslielindsay1 #alwayswithabook for more like this.

Thank you to Leslie Lindsay for a great interview and all your support! 🙂 Next week, I’ll post the virtual book launch activities here on the blog and social media sites listed below. Join A New Course Book Launch page on Facebook to get the latests updates in real time!

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


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Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest @Down Syndrome with a Slice of Autism

Twitter @tjunnerstall







Posted in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC), Autism, Down syndrome, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #123~UFC Rousey & Apraxia of Speech

Blog #123~UFC Rousey & Apraxia of Speech

Headline in ABC News last week, Ronda Rousey UFC champion fighter brings awareness to Apraxia of Speech! Take a look at the story featured on Good Morning America:

The lives of champion UFC fighter Ronda Rousey and speech pathologist and mom Laura Smith might seem worlds apart, but the two women share a unique connection.

Smith and her 5-year-old daughter, Ashlynn, met Rousey, 28, this spring at a book signing in Denver, Colorado, for Rousey’s autobiography, “My Fight/Your Fight.”

Smith told ABC News she was on a mission to meet Rousey in order to find out if the speech disorder she had as a child was the same condition that affected her daughter, Ashlynn, has.  

“I read probably everything she’s ever said about her speech impediment and the more I read I was like, ‘That was apraxia. This is apraxia,’” Smith recalled.

Childhood apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder where the brain has problems coordinating with the body parts –- like lips, jaw and tongue -– needed for speech, according to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

“At first I was tested for deafness,” Rousey said of her own childhood struggle. “They thought maybe my pronunciation was off because I was hearing things differently.”  

“But it was really I had all these words perfectly arranged in my head, it’s just when they tried to come out of my mouth they sounded different,” she said. “It was kind of like there was a divide between my brain and my mouth.”  

Because apraxia was not a common diagnosis when Rousey was a child, no one suspected it was what was behind the fighter’s speech problems. That is, until Smith gave Rousey a brochure on apraxia at the book signing.  

“I threw the brochure and the bodyguards came in immediately to get it,” Smith said. “She [Rousey] picked it up and I was like, ‘If you did have it, would you say it in your interviews because it would mean so much for our kids.’”

Rousey says the information in the brochure struck her instantly.  

“I actually ended up reading through the whole thing that night and was like, ‘Oh my God, this is all exactly it. This is exactly what it was,’” Rousey said. “I didn’t know it was actually apraxia until that moment.”  

“She really taught me a lot about myself that day and I can’t thank her enough for it,” Rousey said of Smith.  

To thank Smith and her daughter, Rousey sent a special message, doing exactly what Smith asked her to do at the book signing, talking about apraxia.

“Hi Laura and Ashlynn,” Rousey said in the taped message. “I just wanted to say I’m so happy to hear everything that you’re doing to raise awareness of apraxia.”

“You definitely raised awareness in me and I just wish you all the best,” she said. “I know our paths will cross again someday at some point so I can’t wait to see you again.”

Ronda Rousey ABC news

So just what does apraxia look like?   The American Speech–Language–Hearing Association, describes childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) “is a motor speech disorder. Children with CAS have problems saying sounds, syllables, and words. This is not because of muscle weakness or paralysis. The brain has problems planning to move the body parts (e.g., lips, jaw, tongue) needed for speech. The messages from the brain to the mouth are disrupted, and the person cannot move his or her lips or tongue to the right place to say sounds correctly, even though the muscles are not weak.”

This hits home for me. My son Nick who is 21 years old and has Down syndrome and autism was given the diagnosis of apraxia when he was 6 years old. While his language skills have improved with speech therapy, he still struggles with articulating words. When he tries to imitate some words he gets stuck.  Nick continues to go to speech therapy, uses sign language, a picture exchange communication system (PECS) and has an AAC device with an app called Touch Chat to further facilitate his communication.

For more information including symptoms, causes, testing and treatment click on the on these links:  The first ever parent guide to childhood apraxia of speech, written by Leslie Lindsay

SOA_mock (2)

The meeting of Smith and Rousey at the book signing resulted in raising awareness of apraxia. Rousey posted the brochure on her Facebook page, which has been liked by nearly 7 million as of last week.


Here’s to Rousey who has won many fights in her life both in and outside the ring.  She has no doubt given inspiration to kids and their parents around the world. I hope this information helps parents and children who are struggling with speech difficulties. That’s what’s in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Posted in Autism, Behavior/ ABA, Down syndrome

Blog #70~When Down Syndrome and Autism Intersect

Blog #70~When Down Syndrome and Autism Intersect

I just finished reading the Woodbine House book, When Down Syndrome and Autism Intersect, A Guide to DS-ASD for Parents and Professionals. As always, Woodbine House delivers the goods. I only wish this book had been available fifteen years ago when I began to suspect that Nick had something more going on than just Down syndrome.

down syndrome and autism intersect

I started to notice little things at first. Around the age of five Nick started to bang objects and exhibit other odd behaviors. After doing some internet research I stumbled upon a sensory processing disorder checklist. Nick met many of the criteria which led me to believe this was the reason for those behaviors. When we attended the local Down syndrome support group functions I also felt that he didn’t speak as well as his peers.

Nick is more interested in his hand flapping than Santa 🙂
So, I went to have an evaluation done to see if he might have autism. The results of this indicated that Nick did not have autism as he was highly social and his language deficits were a result of having verbal apraxia of speech. For more information on verbal apraxia of speech I would suggest reading this Woodbine House book, Speaking of Apraxia A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech:

SOA_mock (2)

Six years passed and as puberty was full on, Nick’s behavior and meltdowns became more violent and dangerous. The staff at his school struggled along as well. It was nagging at me. I brought up my concerns and the need for an evaluation for autism. The staff informed me that this was not necessary as there was already a primary evaluation of Down syndrome. We decided to have an independent evaluation done at Little Friends Center for Autism, Getting the official diagnosis of autism confirmed my suspicions and gave me a sense of relief and validation. Most importantly, the formal diagnosis allowed for getting the services of the school district’s autism specialist. This specialist helped to identify what triggers set off meltdowns and was able to put a behavior plan in place along with a better picture communication system with proper training for the staff and myself.

Nick age 12, proudly stands on the podium winning the state gold medal in the softball throw at the Special Olympics…


According to the Kennedy Krieger Institute, http://,  around 10-15 percent of children with Down syndrome also have autism.

For an autism diagnosis there are three areas of development that a person must show significant difficulties:

1. Social Functioning
2. Non-verbal or difficulties with communication
3. Restricted interests and activities

Some of the symptoms and behavior shown with children having Down syndrome and autism are:

*Significant lack of social response
*Difficulties with communication and reported loss of verbal and expressive language.
*Repetitive behaviors like hand flapping, spinning or rocking, fixation on inanimate objects (strings, fans, mirrors, water, etc..)
*Sensory issues including the intensified sensitivity or need for more sensory input
*Behavioral challenges including frequent tantrums and physical violence

The book, When Down Syndrome and Autism Intersect contains a great deal of information on health issues and gives practical information on tackling the complex world of raising a child with Down syndrome and autism. My best advice is this, if you suspect that a child with Down syndrome has something else going on then run; don’t walk to get a firm diagnosis. There are more services that become available to help with challenging behaviors, communication and learning for our kids. That’s what is in my noggin this week! 🙂

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #6 The Nick Connection

Once upon a time, Nick only had Down syndrome.  I am unable to say with any certainty when the light switch flipped.  The symptoms of autism didn’t appear after any round of immunizations or before the age of 3.  In fact there were many symptoms that Nick didn’t have.

Autism is defined by the Mayo Clinic as, One of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood — usually before age 3. Though symptoms and severity vary, all autism disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Children with autism generally have problems in three crucial areas of development — social interaction, language and behavior. But because autism symptoms vary greatly, two children with the same diagnosis may act quite differently and have strikingly different skills. In most cases, though, severe autism is marked by a complete inability to communicate or interact with other people. Some children show signs of autism in early infancy. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life but then suddenly become withdrawn, become aggressive or lose language skills they’ve already acquired.”

Nick has always found a way to connect with people.  Years ago, when he was around 2 years old, a woman approached me in the local Kroger supermarket.  She went out of her way to tell me how good Nick’s eye contact was and how engaging his personality was.  Countless doctors, therapists and teachers have made the same recognition over the years since then. He thrives around people and having fun with them.

Being silly pouring water on Grandma Babs

Fun with his Dad and brother, Hank

As I mentioned earlier, there was no flip of the switch.   A few things stood out around the age of 4. At the time, we lived in northern California. He started rocking more back and forth and became increasingly intolerant of having his hair cut.  Then there was the trip to Half Moon Bay where he began to pinch his cheeks hard as we walked across the coarse grain sandy beach. I suspected these behaviors were sensory related.  To make sure all the bases were covered I took him in to be evaluated for autism at age 5.  The Mayo clinic states that, “Though each child with autism is likely to have a unique pattern of behavior, these are some common autism symptoms:  

Social skills

  • Fails to respond to his or her name
  • Has poor eye contact
  • Appears not to hear you at times
  • Resists cuddling and holding
  • Appears unaware of others’ feelings
  • Seems to prefer playing alone — retreats into his or her “own world”


  • Starts talking later than age 2, and has other developmental delays by 30 months
  • Loses previously acquired ability to say words or sentences
  • Doesn’t make eye contact when making requests
  • Speaks with an abnormal tone or rhythm — may use a singsong voice or robot-like speech
  • Can’t start a conversation or keep one going
  • May repeat words or phrases verbatim, but doesn’t understand how to use them


  • Performs repetitive movements, such as rocking, spinning or hand-flapping
  • Develops specific routines or rituals
  • Becomes disturbed at the slightest change in routines or rituals
  • Moves constantly
  • May be fascinated by parts of an object, such as the spinning wheels of a toy car
  • May be unusually sensitive to light, sound and touch and yet oblivious to pain

Of the symptoms listed above, Nick displayed none in the social skills category.  The physician noted that his slow speech development was probably due to having Down syndrome and Verbal Apraxia (a neurologically based condition that is characterized by difficulties planning and producing the complex set of oral movements necessary for intelligible speech. For more information on Apraxia click on my favorites section, a new book, Speaking of Apraxia- A Parent’s Guide to Apraxia of Speech by Leslie Lindsay has just been published.  Regarding behavior, Nick did exhibit a few of the symptoms but never was fascinated with spinning any objects or sensitive to light or pain.  So cut to the chase, after the screening the conclusion was he did not have autism.

Fast forward 6 years later, his speech hadn’t improved and the behaviors were growing more severe.  Nick’s speech was limited.  Imagine someone putting duct tape across your mouth and trying to navigate the world.  With no voice he would get frustrated and turn to throwing such things as a chair across the room or breaking a glass across the floor.  Worse yet, he would have meltdowns that drew blood and bruises when he would pinch, kick and bite. At Gi Gi’s Playhouse group time (a local Down syndrome support group,) I began to notice that he was playing more by himself and primarily with any musical toy he could get his hands on dancing side to side.

This was more than just Down syndrome.  Next stop Little Friends Center for Autism.  The second screening was much more comprehensive and included a team of therapists who individually assessed him.  Voila, diagnosis confirmed.  I can say first hand that the evaluation methods had improved tenfold.  I suspect that is one of the reasons why the incidences of autism cases have risen so significantly over the past five years.

So back to the Nick connection, because he has always been highly social it was hard to see that somewhere in the midst autism had crept in.  The tapping, rocking, hand flapping, humming and the sounds of musical toys had become white noise to us like the dryer running in the background. We had become immune to them all. To us he was the guy who won over the hearts of everyone he touched.  He was the fun guy who can click with everyone. When he was much younger he had a belly flash club.  He wouldn’t see his Aunt Laura or my friend Sally for months and yet when he would reunite he greeted them by lifting his shirt up and flashing his belly.

Nick getting ready to belly flash!

He likes to give a high five, rub elbows, noses and he loves to get raspberries. Oh and let me not forget the burps, fake sneezes and what we like to call “force farting” to get your attention. For that I am grateful, well maybe not the force farting (Al’s term given for when Nick pushes out one to get a rise out of us) 😉 but I am glad he is so engaging.  And I have to say those who know Nick can attest to the fact that he can replicate exact sneezes after you do yours. Even Aunt Ali’s tiny, high pitched achoo!

Elbows… with his teacher, Rob


The fact that he can make those connections warms my heart as his mother.  That’s what is in my noggin this week, until next Monday….May you find those special ways to connect with those around you!