When we hear the word “Olympics,” the mind conjures images of highly trained world-class athletes performing skills that took years to develop. Now, what comes to mind when you hear “Special Olympics”? The Special Olympics were founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009), during the early 1960s to create opportunities for the intellectually disabled. Shriver was President John F. Kennedy’s sister, and the Special Olympics began, in part, as a way to honor Rosemary, their intellectually disabled sibling. The 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games took place last week in Los Angeles. Maybe you, like me, watched some of it on ESPN.
The motto for the Special Olympics is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Those most familiar with those words are the families and friends of those with an intellectual disability (ID). One percent of the world’s population are individuals who have some form of intellectual disability. At some point in our lives, about one-half of us will have known or worked with someone who has an ID.
In my own experience, caring for someone with an ID has helped make me more aware of their special strengths and assets, and has also made me much more grateful for the gifts I enjoy. The dozen or so years I lived with her helped me develop much more patience, empathy, and compassion than I had before. I’m certain it made me a better teacher as well.
By law, our public schools are required to provide individuals with an ID the resources they require to learn skills and to function at the best of their abilities. In addition, our schools provide “normal” kids with opportunities to be friends with and help support those who have an ID. Not all Texas schools do this well, but all have made great strides in the last few decades.
ID has a variety of causes — genetic, illness, or a difficult pregnancy. The condition is usually life-long. People with IDs need a specific set of strategies to help identify and promote their strengths and to provide assistance when necessary. Today, with adequate support, folks with IDs can lead happy and productive lives.
As Americans, we value competition in life, whether in the sports world, in business, or in academics. “Winners” are honored and “losers” are encouraged to try harder. But we also place a high value on compassion for the less capable. One of the best ways you can demonstrate those values is to support your local Special Olympics organization. For Bell County and Central Texas, contact the Waco office at 254.230.4824 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Brown is an education consultant and former teacher. He can be contacted at email@example.com.