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Interacting with Special Olympic Athletes

By Janelle Henderson

Special Olympics is one of the most exciting movements today, combining sports with the opportunity to interact with athletes with intellectual disabilities. All of us vary in our experience level with Special Olympic athletes. The suggestions below are meant to help you feel more comfortable in your interactions.

1. People with intellectual disabilities and people without intellectual disabilities are more alike than different. Athletes with intellectual disabilities learn at a slower pace; however they do learn. Athletes with intellectual disabilities experience the same likes, dislikes, pressures, insecurity, and affronts to their dignity as any other person does. Working with people with intellectual disabilities usually requires no specialized training. Good sensitive human relations are the basics to working successfully with athletes with intellectual disabilities. If you are unsure how to respond to a Special Olympics athlete, ask yourself how you would want someone to treat you.

2. A common misconception is that Special Olympics athletes need to be talked down to or talked to as if they were very young children. While athletes’ reasoning abilities may be delayed, talk with them and treat them according to their age.

3. Both children and adults participate in Special Olympics. Always refer to Special Olympics participants as athletes rather than kids. Special Olympics does not, at the request of the United Stated Olympic Committee, use the term Olympians.

4. Using appropriate body language makes any conversation with athletes and coaches more positive. Maintain eye contact to let the person know you are interested. Keep an open body posture, arms by your side or in your pocket. Incline your head toward the person. Closed arms and leaning away from a person created a closed or unfriendly position or atmosphere.

5. Be yourself. Use your normal voice and give support, but try not to over praise. Don’t exaggerate the accomplishments of athletes. Special Olympics athletes will gain the most from being judged fairly and without overstatement.

Relax, enjoy yourself and have fun! This will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. Get to know as many athletes and coaches as you can. The more people you see and meet, the more you (and they) will enjoy the Games.

Thank you for sharing your time to provide Special Olympics athletes from all over the state, a world class competition and the experience of a lifetime.

The Special Olympics Regional Track Meet is Saturday, June 7, 2014. For more information, please visit TRL message board or contact Steve Sexton at labadorsprinter@yahoo.com

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