Special Memories with the IDD Population at Special Olympics Florida

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Guest Editor, Florinda Gali, MPH, CHES

Special Memories with the IDD population at Special Olympics Florida

When I learned that I would be completing my practicum hours with Special Olympics Florida and Ms. Karlyn Emile, I knew it would be an eye-opening experience; but I never expected it to make such a huge impact on my outlook on life.

Months before I did not even know Special Olympics existed.  I spent several weeks volunteering and working with disabled individuals in La Victoria, Peru. Being that it was my first time ever working with the intellectually and developmentally disabled, I never knew how incredibly resilient this population truly was; I was hooked immediately! Upon learning about Special Olympics from my professors, (Florence Greer and Dr. Melissa Howard) from Florida International University, I could not help but wonder why I had not heard of them before; I knew something would have to be done in order to let others in my community know more about the IDD population and all that Special Olympics are doing for them.

When I began working with Special Olympics, I helped in assisting with health screenings and callbacks, while also helping caregivers find excellent healthcare providers in their area. However, weeks into my internship, I was presented with the amazing opportunity to travel to Orlando, FL and take part in the State games. Before assisting with Health Promotion, my preceptor, Karlyn Emile, trained and prepared a group of healthcare students/professionals and myself to become Health Promotion Clinical Directors- an opportunity I will forever be grateful for. The next day, my group and I headed to the venue and helped educate tons of athletes and their families about topics such as hydration, healthy eating, and heart health using fun methods to facilitate learning. One of my favorite memories from that weekend was being able to teach the athletes about the importance of calcium and healthy bones before taking pictures of them sporting some fun “milk mustaches”… seeing them laugh and enjoy health promotion was heartwarming and left me feeling fulfilled.

When working with this population, it is important to remember to always take a step back and look at those with IDD as individuals, not as a disability. The IDD population is full of strength and positivity, and all they really want is to be loved and to be treated as an equal, they do not wish nor require pity or special treatment. If there is one thing that I learned from working with the IDD population, it is that we all need to learn how to listen and have patience with everyone we meet and work with; you never know what they are living through.

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