Michelle Tetschner

@mtetschner | contributor
Happily married and mom to three boys, our youngest son Raymond is 18 with Down syndrome. I am wildly passionate about inclusion and believe that we are all worthy of being included! I believe so strongly~ that we wrote a book! Check out the book: Fully Included~Stories To Inspire Inclusion! I am a mom. An author. A writer. An advocate. An entrepreneur. We currently live in the Jacksonville Beach, Florida area.
Michelle Tetschner

Encouraging Young Adults With Down Syndrome to Be Independent

Some days, I get tired of being judged. Some days, I get tired of people looking at me like I should jump in to help my child. I can see in people’s eyes that they think I’m a bad mom. I can see that it would be easier for them if I stepped in and took over. I can see that they are watching my child and me, and judging us. When my child with Down syndrome was a baby, people would say to me, “Aren’t you so worried about his future?” I would say, “I’m also worried about my other children as well. But I’m not going to let my fear of the future control today. And I try to take things in stride.” When my child went to elementary school, I stood up for him and his educational needs. Other parents would say to me, “Are you not worried about the teachers getting mad or upset with you?” I would say, “I am my child’s voice. I need to stand strong for him.” In junior high school, people would say, “Aren’t you worried about your child getting bullied or having a hard time?” I would say, “This is the real world and kids need to find their place and belong. The other students need to learn from him too! They will learn patience and kindness, and how everyone is more alike than different.” In high school, people would say, “Why isn’t your child doing life skills?” I would say, “That’s my job as a parent. We do chores, laundry, and cooking at home. School is for education, sports, and growing strengths and talents.” Now as my child is becoming more independent, I need to let him go and try new things. There are people in the neighborhood who look at me like I’m too lenient, allowing my young adult to walk to the store by himself on a regular basis. But the thing is: young adults with disabilities will be walking around the high school campus by themselves. They will be walking around a college campus by themselves. They will be at a job by themselves. They should be out in this world walking around by themselves, just like everyone else! They deserve to be thought of as a valued part of society. And they need to try new things! We know that there will be failures. We know that some days will be harder than others. But we’ve got to keep trying. I can’t be a helicopter parent, hovering over my child all the time, doing everything for him, and then expecting him to succeed without me. I can’t expect to do everything for my child, and then expect them to be able to do it by themselves. I have to let him go alone if I expect him to have a job. I have to let him cook if I expect him to cook at his apartment. I have to let him stay home alone if I expect him to live independently. I need to let go in a safe place. I need to let him have the dignity of risk, and to try and make mistakes. I need to let him fail and help him grow from his life lessons. Some days it is hard being judged and watched — but it’s worth it!

Michelle Tetschner

Supporting Teachers Who Include Students With Disabilities

Dear teacher, I see you! I see you, bending down and speaking calmly to the child who is struggling. I see you, taking the extra time to watch and make sure all the students are paying attention when you are at the board. I see you, walking around gently redirecting students as their minds may wander. I see you, making time to ensure every student has everything they need to feel comfortable and successful. I see you, creating leadership moments for every student. I see you, developing gifts and talents for every student to have a moment to shine. I see you, taking pictures to share with parents. I see you, writing extra notes to make sure parents feel like they know what is going on in their children’s classroom. I see you, having quick meetings on the phone to better help keep parents informed. I see you, helping to initiate friendships and helping all students feel like they belong in your classroom. I see you, taking the time to include all students in your classroom! I see you, with your huge heart, open to helping all students connect and be a relevant part of the classroom. I see your joy when my child succeeds. I see your love in all the little things you do. I see you. I see what a wonderful teacher you are and how beautiful your heart truly is!

Michelle Tetschner

What Donuts Taught My Son With Down Syndrome About Independence

Teaching independence can be hard. But it can also be hilarious! And when independence and donuts cross paths, it can bring unexpected laughter! Sometimes the lessons learned are surprising to all of us. My son is gluten-free. My family is gluten-free. We follow this very closely when eating at home. But, now that my son with Down syndrome has some new independence, we are finding many unexpected  “teaching moments” will pop up. He mostly knows what gluten-free is and what it means. He knows how to look for gluten-free on the label. But, we are also realizing that we simply avoid many stores that do not carry gluten-free items. This list will include restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, etc if they don’t carry gluten-free items. We are realizing now that by avoiding these places, he is behind in learning about certain foods — what they are made of, what they taste like, and even look like. So, today my son came home from Dunkin’ Donuts. He has started walking to Dunkin’ himself, will order his own coffee, and walk back home. He’s gotten really good at it, and even likes to explore and try new flavors in his coffee. Today, on our front door camera, we could see that upon returning, he had two boxes in his hand, with his usual coffee. We couldn’t see close enough from the camera playback, to see what kind of boxes they were, or how big the boxes were-just that there were two white boxes.  But, we had a feeling we knew what they were. We tried not to get mad, we tried for it to be a “teaching moment” instead, but we didn’t expect to have to hide our laughter at his responses. We got home and called my son downstairs. My husband went up to his room and searched, and found the two white boxes. They were what we expected — boxes for Dunkin’ Donuts. Gratefully, they were little boxes. The kind that mini donuts come in. Each box holds approximately six donut holes. We sat him down and asked if he had bought donuts, he quickly said, “No.” He got upset with us when we said that we didn’t believe him. He was indignant. He stood up and said, “I’m telling the truth.” We showed him the boxes and said that donuts were in these boxes -and he had eaten them. Eaten them all. He said, “No, those were little tiny round things — not donuts.” Bless his heart! He truly believed that donuts only come in the shape of a donut ring. In his mind, donut holes were not ring-shaped and didn’t count! My husband had to leave the room. He could barely hide his laughter. It turns out that he had first tried these with a friend, who ordered them last week. He loved them. Of course he did! But because they were in a shape that he was unfamiliar with, he did not realize that they were truly donuts, and they would have gluten in them. While he took responsibility for ordering them, he also was super mad at his friend for introducing him to these sugar-filled yummy concoctions. It was hilarious to see his righteous indignation at his friend for not telling him. Oh boy! Independence can be complicated, but also full of fun and interesting lessons to teach. And when independence and donuts cross paths, don’t forget to laugh and take it in stride!

Michelle Tetschner

Disability Inclusion in Theatre Benefits Everyone

My son ROCKS! I wish others saw him as I do! Here’s a picture of him at acting class last week. I struggle with wanting to change the world for him.I want people to be more accepting.I want people to be more open.I want it today. Not tomorrow, today.But sometimes we have to take baby steps.Sometimes we can only change one person at a time. When I signed my son up, I didn’t ask for any special requests — we just went.I honestly didn’t think about anything besides his excitement.I was thinking of what he could do, not what he couldn’t.Down syndrome was not on my mind — just a boy who loves drama and acting. We caught the other students/actors off guard being there.We caught the instructor off guard being there. It took them a while.It took them a beat or two to get comfortable.And then they realized they were all there for the same reason — their love of acting.And they slowly opened their hearts.And they started to see him.They saw his eagerness.They saw his love of laughter.They saw his love for spontaneity.They saw he tried. But what was most amazing was when the instructor changed his teaching style.He put down the paper scripts (that my son was struggling with) and started using improv techniques.And that’s when all the students began to grow.They began to use physical humor and their body language.They began to use facial expressions and make more eye contact.They jumped up and volunteered more quickly.It became more fun for all. Several students took the time to say goodbye to my son as we left.Several were still intimidated.But today, we changed a few perspectives and opened some hearts.

Michelle Tetschner

What Donuts Taught My Son With Down Syndrome About Independence

Teaching independence can be hard. But it can also be hilarious! And when independence and donuts cross paths, it can bring unexpected laughter! Sometimes the lessons learned are surprising to all of us. My son is gluten-free. My family is gluten-free. We follow this very closely when eating at home. But, now that my son with Down syndrome has some new independence, we are finding many unexpected  “teaching moments” will pop up. He mostly knows what gluten-free is and what it means. He knows how to look for gluten-free on the label. But, we are also realizing that we simply avoid many stores that do not carry gluten-free items. This list will include restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, etc if they don’t carry gluten-free items. We are realizing now that by avoiding these places, he is behind in learning about certain foods — what they are made of, what they taste like, and even look like. So, today my son came home from Dunkin’ Donuts. He has started walking to Dunkin’ himself, will order his own coffee, and walk back home. He’s gotten really good at it, and even likes to explore and try new flavors in his coffee. Today, on our front door camera, we could see that upon returning, he had two boxes in his hand, with his usual coffee. We couldn’t see close enough from the camera playback, to see what kind of boxes they were, or how big the boxes were-just that there were two white boxes.  But, we had a feeling we knew what they were. We tried not to get mad, we tried for it to be a “teaching moment” instead, but we didn’t expect to have to hide our laughter at his responses. We got home and called my son downstairs. My husband went up to his room and searched, and found the two white boxes. They were what we expected — boxes for Dunkin’ Donuts. Gratefully, they were little boxes. The kind that mini donuts come in. Each box holds approximately six donut holes. We sat him down and asked if he had bought donuts, he quickly said, “No.” He got upset with us when we said that we didn’t believe him. He was indignant. He stood up and said, “I’m telling the truth.” We showed him the boxes and said that donuts were in these boxes -and he had eaten them. Eaten them all. He said, “No, those were little tiny round things — not donuts.” Bless his heart! He truly believed that donuts only come in the shape of a donut ring. In his mind, donut holes were not ring-shaped and didn’t count! My husband had to leave the room. He could barely hide his laughter. It turns out that he had first tried these with a friend, who ordered them last week. He loved them. Of course he did! But because they were in a shape that he was unfamiliar with, he did not realize that they were truly donuts, and they would have gluten in them. While he took responsibility for ordering them, he also was super mad at his friend for introducing him to these sugar-filled yummy concoctions. It was hilarious to see his righteous indignation at his friend for not telling him. Oh boy! Independence can be complicated, but also full of fun and interesting lessons to teach. And when independence and donuts cross paths, don’t forget to laugh and take it in stride!

Michelle Tetschner

What Donuts Taught My Son With Down Syndrome About Independence

Teaching independence can be hard. But it can also be hilarious! And when independence and donuts cross paths, it can bring unexpected laughter! Sometimes the lessons learned are surprising to all of us. My son is gluten-free. My family is gluten-free. We follow this very closely when eating at home. But, now that my son with Down syndrome has some new independence, we are finding many unexpected  “teaching moments” will pop up. He mostly knows what gluten-free is and what it means. He knows how to look for gluten-free on the label. But, we are also realizing that we simply avoid many stores that do not carry gluten-free items. This list will include restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, etc if they don’t carry gluten-free items. We are realizing now that by avoiding these places, he is behind in learning about certain foods — what they are made of, what they taste like, and even look like. So, today my son came home from Dunkin’ Donuts. He has started walking to Dunkin’ himself, will order his own coffee, and walk back home. He’s gotten really good at it, and even likes to explore and try new flavors in his coffee. Today, on our front door camera, we could see that upon returning, he had two boxes in his hand, with his usual coffee. We couldn’t see close enough from the camera playback, to see what kind of boxes they were, or how big the boxes were-just that there were two white boxes.  But, we had a feeling we knew what they were. We tried not to get mad, we tried for it to be a “teaching moment” instead, but we didn’t expect to have to hide our laughter at his responses. We got home and called my son downstairs. My husband went up to his room and searched, and found the two white boxes. They were what we expected — boxes for Dunkin’ Donuts. Gratefully, they were little boxes. The kind that mini donuts come in. Each box holds approximately six donut holes. We sat him down and asked if he had bought donuts, he quickly said, “No.” He got upset with us when we said that we didn’t believe him. He was indignant. He stood up and said, “I’m telling the truth.” We showed him the boxes and said that donuts were in these boxes -and he had eaten them. Eaten them all. He said, “No, those were little tiny round things — not donuts.” Bless his heart! He truly believed that donuts only come in the shape of a donut ring. In his mind, donut holes were not ring-shaped and didn’t count! My husband had to leave the room. He could barely hide his laughter. It turns out that he had first tried these with a friend, who ordered them last week. He loved them. Of course he did! But because they were in a shape that he was unfamiliar with, he did not realize that they were truly donuts, and they would have gluten in them. While he took responsibility for ordering them, he also was super mad at his friend for introducing him to these sugar-filled yummy concoctions. It was hilarious to see his righteous indignation at his friend for not telling him. Oh boy! Independence can be complicated, but also full of fun and interesting lessons to teach. And when independence and donuts cross paths, don’t forget to laugh and take it in stride!

Community Voices

EIGHT new ideas for New Years Resolutions!

For this years New Years Resolutions- let’s ADD in NEW things!

Here are EIGHT easy ideas to lift yourself and others up!
Let’s celebrate each other and let our loved ones know how they are loved!

1. Hug more!
Be the one who hugs just a little longer and just a little tighter! Squeeze them tight! Make sure your loved ones know how much they are loved and appreciated.

2. Call your friends more!
Our friends lift us up and give us so much joy! Have you told them that lately-tell them today! Not everyone is ready to go out in public yet, so keeping in touch is vital! Agree to a specific time to sit down, without interruptions, and have a chat instead. Maybe FaceTime, maybe not. Maybe have a glass of wine or perhaps coffee instead. But do catch up-and let them know how very much they are missed!

3. More walks in nature and see local sights!
What park in your own community have you not been to yet? What little town within an hours drive can you go visit? Is there a nature trail close by that you haven’t tried yet? Have an adventure-hike or bike to somewhere new!

4. More art and music in my life!
Shut off that TV and do music instead! What museums are close that you can visit with the kids? What show or theatre production is coming this year? What concert tickets can you buy now-making it an adventure and exciting event to look forward to in your life!

5. Give more compliments!
Change someone’s whole day! Compliment their smile, their shirt, their hair-watch them smile in response and walk away with a little more confidence in their step! That small little ripple of happiness can change peoples entire day!

6. Take care of yourself!

Take that bath! Take a quick 5 min walk to revitalize and energize. Take that extra 5 min nap. Fill up your OWN cup, so you have more to pour out to others.

7. Appreciate your spouse!

Make time for date nights! Plan for them, make them fun and adventuresome! Agree to take turns planning for them. Teach the children about them-showing them examples of what love can look like. Even if its only sneaking into the backyard with a blanket and a cuddle-make time for your partner!

8. Look for ways to include and celebrate others!
Look for peoples strengths! Look for peoples talents! Look for those hesitant to join in, and invite them in. Lead the way in showing others what inclusion looks like. Open your hearts to seeing the exceptional in everyone and enjoy how beautiful we are each created!

Michelle Tetschner

What Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Teaches Us About Disability

My son loves to drum to Christmas songs. One of his favorites is “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” A few years ago, I heard a version of the song that really stuck with me. Now, every time I hear the song, I get teary-eyed! Santa picked Rudolph. Rudolph wasn’t the most popular. Rudolph wasn’t the leader of the pack. Rudolph was picked on. Rudolph was made fun of, yet Santa picked him. He picked him for his talents, his bravery, and his willingness to step forward.This brings tears to my eyes. Rudolph, just like my son and many of his friends, was often overlooked and considered unworthy. But Santa recognized and saw Rudolph and his special gift. He truly saw him! That is huge in our world! It is not often that people understand and take the time to see how awesome my son and his friends are. So yes, this song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it! I hope next time, you hear this song differently — and take the time to see someone’s hidden gifts and talents!

Michelle Tetschner

My Son With Down Syndrome Got Lost During His First Week at College

My son got lost! My son is a freshman at college this year. He got lost on night five of college. At 9:30 p.m. It was dark. Pitch black. Everyone gets lost, right? But not everyone has Down syndrome and rocks an extra chromosome. This was his very first Friday night on campus. There was a concert, and on the way home, he and his roommate got turned around in their directions. We panicked! I thought my heart would jump out of my chest! I got dressed and was pacing back and forth. When they first called, they sounded calm, like they had it under control. They said he had been lost, but was now found. I waited anxiously, staring at my phone. It took everything in me to be still and wait. Then I got the second phone call that he was found, but couldn’t walk. He was lying in the dorm lobby, and they believed he had broken his ankle. They wanted to call an ambulance. I calmly said no ambulance, and that I would be there in 18 minutes. I tried to drive calmly and not speed. My mind went in so many directions. Urgent care? Or emergency room? Which one is closest? Busiest? Thankfully, I didn’t hit a red light the entire way there. I tried to calm my heart, and took deep breath after deep breath. I did not know what I was going to find when I got there. How could this have happened so quickly? It was only the first week of classes! I parked and quickly jumped out of my car, and dashed inside. I was expecting him to still be lying on the floor in the lobby.But he wasn’t there. A roommate was there, waiting for me. He took me down to their dorm room. As I walked into the dorm room I took deep breaths, not sure what to expect. There he was, lying propped up on his bed, with pillows behind his head. People all around him. People fussing over him.People caring for him. He had ice on his feet. He had a huge glass of ice water. He was fine. I could finally take a deep breath! He held his arms out for a hug. I was allowed a quick hug, but then he leaned around me, asking someone for his phone, and I was forgotten. It seemed he had gotten heat exhaustion, as well as deep blisters on his feet, and then had a complete meltdown. He had gotten to the lobby and dramatically decided the cool floor was as far as he could go. It seemed that they had walked in the dark for almost 30 minutes, getting more and more lost. It was likely a combo of heat, not drinking water, walking so far, and fear that had kicked in for him. My first instinct was to wrap him up and take him home immediately. But looking at all of the people around him, I realized that would not be the best thing for him. We did not pull him out of college, though that was our first reaction. We did, however, regroup. We had to reprocess everything. We had to instill new rules and install Life360 with alerts. We needed more supports and resources put into place. We had to acknowledge there would be bumps in the road. We had to realize that this is complicated stuff. Everyone gets lost. Everyone. This is life. This is going to happen. To ALL of us. Thankfully, he was in a safe environment for this to happen. Thankfully, he can grow from this “failure.” Thankfully, his staff understands there is “dignity of risk” in this learning lesson. We can all grow from this and do better next time. Independence doesn’t happen overnight. Take one step at a time. Break it down. Build resources. Look for small wins. Look for small victories. Give grace. Keep your eyes on the goal — independence! And don’t let the little bumps become mountains.

Michelle Tetschner

Supporting Independence for Young Adults With Down Syndrome

Doing little things for my children is my love language! I am good at it, and I take pride in being “that mom.” My children are used to me “taking charge” and rounding everything and everyone up. I make their lunches, pack them up each day, and get them ready. It makes me feel better about setting them off into the wild world each day. And when your child has disabilities, there is another layer of fear and worry that comes with it all. But I’m realizing now that I am actually doing them an injustice. I’m taking away their practice skills to get organized, to learn to manage their time, and to be more independent without me supervising at all times. This independence stuff is hard! It’s hard on me. It’s hard on my child. It’s hard on those around us. And often we are judged for letting them fail. But there is a super important thing called “dignity of risk.” “Dignity of risk” is the idea that we all fail. These failures can be small, but sometimes they are big and hard. They can be emotional and heart-wrenching. The idea is that we will all have challenges and will all struggle. And we need to acknowledge that, accept it, and grow from it. We all get up, brush ourselves off, and start again. We need to let them fail so they can grow, and become stronger. We need to let them try again, in order to do it correctly the next time. We need to make sure to stand back, and give positive words and cheer them on. We need to give uplifting affirmations instead of criticisms and harsh words. I need to let him lead, buy his own food, and walk into places independently — without me. I need to let him be late, be nervous, and be worried — without me. I need to help him gain confidence and be a self-advocate — without me. This is hard stuff! But I will try harder. My newest challenge is setting my child up for independence. Wish us luck!