Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Speech and Occupational Therapy

Blog #121~10 Years of Autism

Blog #121~ 10 Years of Autism

Last Saturday, the Chicago White Sox gave a replica of the 2005 World Series Ring to all the fans. This was to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the Sox winning the World Series.

This sure beats the heck out of any bobble head they’ve given out…

White Sox Ring

I slipped the heavy ring on, that Al brought home from the game. I thought back on the week that the White Sox won the American League Championship securing their spot in the World Series. That was the week, that we got the firm diagnosis that our son Nick, had autism. Nick is now 21 years old and has Down syndrome along with autism. A lot has happened in the last 10 years, and I’ve learned plenty in the process.

Sox  Nick and mom

What about the 11 years prior to the diagnosis of Nick having autism? Well, when he was 5 years old we had him tested but it was found that he was not on the autism spectrum because he was highly social and the oddities were due to having Sensory Integration Dysfunction.

According to the Sensory Processing Disorder Foundation (SPD Foundation), “Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD, formerly known as “sensory integration dysfunction”)

is a condition that exists when sensory signals don’t get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological “traffic jam” that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks.”

Nick sought out input by tapping objects, walking heavily and stimming with his toys to help organize his senses. His occupational therapist worked with him weekly providing him with a sensory diet.

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In addition, Nick also has Verbal Apraxia of Speech (an acquired oral motor speech disorder affecting an individual’s ability to translate conscious speech plans into motor plans, which results in limited and difficult speech ability). The sensory and speech conditions blurred the lines, therefore the autism didn’t come to view at the time.

As Nick entered the throes of puberty, it became evident that there was more to his behaviors than just Down syndrome. That’s when we sought out Little Friends Center for Autism to do an assessment 10 years ago. Looking back I had a hunch he did. However, part of me wasn’t ready to face such a daunting diagnosis as autism. We got the report from Little Friends the day that the White Sox won the ALC championship. That report was the key to opening up a new world for us.

The official diagnosis of autism, allowed us to request more specific services for Nick. This included a better communication system, behavior plan, training, finding the NADS (National Association for Down Syndrome) support group for dual diagnosis families, and respite care through the state. With the help of Little Friends, I attended training sessions to help Nick foster independence and better communication. More importantly, I learned how to get my son toilet trained once and for all, and out of those Depends diapers.

Nick has grown a lot in the last 10 years. Things are not near perfect, nor will they ever be. We face our daily  battles. He is still stimming and raising autism awareness everywhere he goes. But the meltdowns are fewer and far between. Nick is happy and a funny guy. And when I see him standing there in his boxer briefs I am reminded of perhaps the greatest accomplishments in my life. I’m proud to say that we are done with what our autism community refers to as “Code Brown”

No more poop smears!

poop icon

If you are a parent and have a hunch that your child may have autism, this is my wish for you. That you go get an assessment, take that piece of paper and use it as your ticket to get the services to help your child.  Seeing where Nick is today is a sweet victory that I savor.  It feels like I’m winning the series in Nick’s world.  That’s what is in my noggin this week!

~Teresa 🙂

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Fun Side of Nick

Blog #105~ Furry Friends and Special Needs Families

Blog #105~ Furry Friends and Special Needs Families

I wish that my iPhone camera was set to video last Friday. Nick came home from school and he was so excited to hear a tiny meow.  We adopted a new kitten from the shelter.  His face just lit up.  He was so excited and delighted saying, “Yay, kibbie!”  (That is how Nick says “kitty”)  Nick has Down syndrome and autism.  He also has verbal apraxia so his speech is limited.  Yet, I am always amazed at some of the words he says. Many are things that he is passionate about. Here are a few: Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Sprite, cake, shower, Harold -from Thomas the Tank Engine, and yes….. a couple of expletives as well.

In Nick’s communication book he has many picture icons to request things and share his feelings. On many occasions, Nick has handed me these two icons paired together………

Mellie Sad Icons

We had to put down our 17-year-old cat last summer. Miss Mellie was such a big part of the family. Nick had a lot of fun with her over the years.  I’ve dedicated several blogs about their relationship……

https://nickspecialneeds.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/blog-33-stuff-on-my-cat/

https://nickspecialneeds.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/blog-62stuff-on-my-cat-part-ii/

https://nickspecialneeds.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/blog-63furry-family-members/

Here is a hint of what you can find on the blogs above……Splat!

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Despite all the mischievous things Nick has done, Miss Mellie would still snuggle up with him……

IMG-20121123-00001

Our new kitten is a sweet tabby as well. She’s 5 months old, loves to cuddle and has a nice deep purr.  She is spirited yet not destructive, and even plays fetch!  I’ll post some footage of her fetching on The Facebook page, “Down Syndrome with a Slice of Autism” this Friday.  Nick has been swinging some of the wands that dangle cat toys for her.  He is a little skittish when she wants to rub up around his legs.  But otherwise, the two are getting along nicely.

Introducing the new furry family member……

Kibbie one

So, you may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned her name yet. We are taking a few days to observe her personality and see what suits her.  Nick’s brother (Hank), came in from NIU to meet her and brainstorm names.

Hank and kitty…..

Hank and Kitty

I think she is settling in nicely….

Kibbie Two

I posted pictures on Facebook on Friday. My friend Kendra, suggested naming the kitten the first thing that Nick puts on her. Well if we do that, her name thus far would either be “Sneezy” or……….

Snots!!!

snots the dog

I look forward to sharing more about Nick and the adventures of our new furry family member. Stay tuned for the announcement of her name. And in the meantime, I’ll keep the shaving cream and fajita seasoning locked up.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

 

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

Blog #45~Can We Talk?

 

Blog#45~Can We Talk?

How does someone like Nick who has Down syndrome and autism communicate his needs and wants?  Let me start at the beginning.  When Nick was in the infant program he was taught sign language.  He would sign “more, all done, yes, no and other basic words.”  Using sign language gave him a voice when the low tone of having Down syndrome slowed up his speech.

When he was around 4 years old I began to snap photographs and put them on one of those blue school pocket charts.  These pictures included things he enjoyed like juice, Goldfish, Thomas the Train and Barney videos. These worked great and he understood all of them.

In first grade I requested an assessment to see if he would do better with an augmentative and alternative communication device. According to  About.com, Augmentative communication is an alternative way to help students and adults with language disorders use expressive language or receptive language. Augmentative communication can be accomplished through assistive technology devices such as computers or hand held devices. Low technology such as picture communication systems can also be used as augmentative communication.

The evaluator came out to the home to try some of the voice output devices with Nick.  He just stimmed on the devices,  hitting the buttons rapid fire like a DJ scratching a rap record.

Cat-DJ-Scratch-Set-1

The evaluator concluded that it would serve Nick better to use a low tech picture system to help him communicate.  She gave me a handful of laminated pictures (goldfish, chicken tenders, pasta, milk, juice and Coke.) They were like rare, gold coins that I treasured. (There was nothing like Google Images back when he was 6 years old.) You either had to snap photographs, cut out pictures out of magazines or beg for icons from the speech therapist. Note that around this time, Nick was also diagnosed with Verbal Apraxia of Speech which further complicated his ablility to articulate.  For years, Nick used pictures and sign language to communicate his needs.

Since Nick can’t read or write and his verbal skills are limited, he needs support.  What we learned is that someone like Nick who has autism tends to see things clearly with pictures.  If he can see it, he can understand it.  In fifth grade the school team was trained on how to use the PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). There is a precise protocol to the system.  Once the protocol was followed, Nick made great strides in using the pictures to communicate wants and needs. He finally had a voice! 🙂

The cost of buying the software used by most schools is steep as well.  A Mayer-Johnson Boardmaker program can be $400-$800 dollars!  However, if you are a parent you can purchase these programs for 1/2 price. 🙂  Also if your CD gets damaged (aka, Nick dropping it from the second floor) they will replace it for no charge.  Check with your support teacher, as they should have access to this software and will make any laminated icons you might need for home use.  In addition, check with your local library and agencies like Easter Seals to see if they have it available to check out.

Most of the time Nick puts the pictures and icons on a velcro strip and hands it to the caregiver.  However sometimes he gets a little more creative. 🙂

“Hey Mom,  I’ve laid out my plan for what I want to do now”……..

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Poor Kitty, nap interrupted………..

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The next re-evaluation came in middle school.  The team decided to try Nick on a voice output device.  He was given a set amount time to just play and stim on it.  But then, he began to understand that the device was to be used to communicate.  There are all sizes and the cost for these can be thousands of dollars. Nick’s was around $8,000 dollars.  The Dynavox V was the Cadillac of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)  devices that would grow with Nick. This was provided by the school district. We found out later that the Dynavox V had major drawback.  It was that it was heavy and bulky.

Dynavox V or as we named it “The Brick”……

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After a few years with the Dynavox,  We looked into other devices that would be more portable and less obtrusive. We ditched the “Brick” and moved to an iPod touch loaded with a program called Touch Chat.  Another popular program is called Proloquo2Go.  I like Touch Chat because you can upload your own pictures as well as using theirs. Both programs are excellent. The iPod is protected and enhanced with sound using a case with speakers- (iMainGo Speaker case.)

imaingo case

In essence, it is an electronic version of his PECS communication book.  He still needs a lot of practice using it properly without stimming on it.  The jury is still out on whether this will take over as his primary means to communicate.

Touch chat screen….

touch chat pic

Finding the means to help Nick’s communicate continues to be a work in progress. If he is on the phone with you he might say hi and your name if he recognizes your voice.  But mostly he will smile and wave.

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He continues to use some verbal speech,  sign language, Pecs picture book and the iPod Touch Chat.  It’s like walking down the stairs.  Sometimes you need to hold onto the handrail and sometimes you don’t.   All of these communication methods are his handrail that support and facilitate his speech.

I have learned that there is no perfect way to help with speech.  All of these serve him and have their drawbacks.  It’s always good to have the backup PECS book in case the batteries die or the device goes for an unexpected dip in the pool. I hope this gives you some insight into the evolution of Nick’s way of talking through the years.  That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂