When some people hear the phrase “Special Olympics”, they think of it as a non-productive play day, with no rhyme or reason. A day for “retards to get medals for playing”. As aggravating as this perception can be, it’s not that uncommon to see people uninformed about what the Special Olympics entails, let alone know what the Special Olympics means to the participants and their families. Having a brother, John, who is a Special Olympic swimmer, I have seen the good that the Special Olympics has given John, his team, and other Special Olympians.
Improved Social Skills:
With social skills being a major challenge for John due to his autism, he has struggled to interact with others. When he was younger, he didn’t even want to be touched. However, when John discovered swimming, he liked the feeling of being in the water. It was comforting for him. Soon, John felt comfortable enough to interact with his swim coaches. He would let them swim close to him and touch his arms. This eventually helped John with his social skills at school. He was starting to talk to others and make friends.
At first, John was nervous about working with a swim team. But through John’s improved social skills, he was able to develop a sense of teamwork. Since he was the most experienced swimmer on his team, he later became the team’s captain. Feeling responsible for the other swimmers on his team, he does his best to help and encourage his fellow teammates, to do their best. Today, they work well together as a team.
Networking with Other Special Needs Families:
When having a family member who is special needs, it can feel very isolating. Through John’s swim team, we, the families of the swimmers, have built a little community among ourselves. We help each other in a variety of ways, from sharing information about resources, to providing rides for swim meets. And those times when someone is going through a hard time, we are there to support each other. John has also made friends with other swimmers, which makes the experience that much more enjoyable for him.
At the Special Olympics, there is a carnival-like area, where Special Olympians and their families go for food, games, and to meet local community sponsors. Sponsors vary from major corporations like Disney, to medical groups giving free eye and hearing exams for the Special Olympians. This helps the sponsors learn about the needs of this growing community and how to accommodate them. Additionally, Special Olympic families, especially those with little resources, find organizations that can better serve them and their children’s needs.
One of the major struggles for those with special needs is self-confidence.
Some Special Olympics may feel that because they have a special need, they are in some way inferior to those who are typical Olympians. Through the Special Olympics, these Olympians find happiness in competing in a sport they are passionate about. This happiness leads them to feel a boost in their self-confidence. When John is recognized as a Special Olympian in public, people treat him with a high regard that he normally would not get. This gives him greater self-confidence and self-value.
Despite the misconceptions often associated with the Special Olympics, for those of us involved in it, it’s changed our lives. The Special Olympics is a necessity. Not only for those in the special needs community, but also to show mainstream society that these talented special athletes want to belong and be accepted into mainstream society.