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…


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. 🙂


Follow Nick:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall



Posted in Autism, Down syndrome

Blog #110~Autism Holiday Survival Tips

Blog #110~Autism Holiday Survival Tips

The Christmas holidays can be a land mine for individuals who have autism.  The changes in schedules, crowds, noises and the lights can result in way too much external stimuli to process. My son, Nick is 20 years old and has Down syndrome and autism.  As I flip the calendar to December, I can feel my anxiety level begin to arise. We all handle holiday stress in different ways. The movie, Christmas Vacation conveys this so well.

“I don’t know what to say.  It’s Christmas and we’re all in misery”

Christmas vacation cig pic

Here are 10 tips for surviving the holidays with your child who has autism:

  1. Start early, get as much done ahead of time with holiday preparations.
  2. Don’t rush, allow enough time to get from point A to point B. Give more notice when it is time to transition. This will help to avoid meltdowns.
  3. Be flexible and relax your expectations over the holidays.
  4. Pare down where you can, whether it’s decorations, presents, or parties. It’s okay to say no or bow out early.
  5. When possible try to stick to routines. Sometimes it’s easier to hire a babysitter or respite worker to stay at home with your child while you go to holiday parties.
  6. Make social stories using visuals or written words (depending on your child’s level of comprehension). This will act as a script for your child to follow.  If they can see what’s expected, they will understand the plan and won’t be as anxious.

Task strip for a trip to the mall…..


Task strip for airline travel……


7. Provide pictures of family members and friends that you don’t see that often prior to visiting them. If your child doesn’t like to hug then try a special handshake, high five or Nick’s favorite….

Elbow Bump 🙂


8. Give your child opportunities to help out. Allow them to make choices between two things. This gives them more control during the holidays, (when we all feel a bit out of control at times).

Nick helps out with the luggage, which gives him heavy sensory work….

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9. Find a quiet place for your child to unwind. Most of us know how to do this on our own (bubble bath, crack open a bottle of wine, exercise, etc.). But a child with autism can get overstimulated and not know how to decompress. They may need you to help them to settle down and relax.

10. Get rest when you can and take time to pause and reflect on the blessings of the season.

Christmas vacation reflection

I hope these survival tips will help your family and child with autism.  As you flip over the calendar to December today, take a deep breath.  Your child will be feeding off your cues, so……

Keep Calm Christmas

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Christmas 2

Nick and his brother Hank in 1999