My professional experience serving the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) population has been very educational and extremely rewarding.
When I first started volunteering back in March of this year, my knowledge of this population was that a person with developmental issues was unable to execute learning comprehension. Quickly after volunteering with Karlyn Emile and Special Olympics Florida, I learned that my assumption or perception was inaccurate. Assisting with the IDD population has taught me that a person with developmental or intellectual issues can hold high amounts of intelligence and that we shouldn’t assume or classify students all into one category. Intellectual Developmental Disabilities are classified on a large scale from cognitive, physical or sometimes both. For example, a person may suffer from Down syndrome yet can still read, write, play sports and understand the concepts of respect and responsibility.
In addition, working with the IDD population and teaching them about the importance of nutrition and physical activity has been such a rewarding experience for me. I’m pursuing a Master’s in Nutrition to fulfill a career as a Registered Dietician so I’m so honored to have been given this opportunity to practice what I love most which is making healthy eating fun and promoting health. Each nutrition curriculum lasted for 10 weeks and during this time it was fascinating to notice the improvements in most students/athletes who participated. For instance, during a protein lesson, Phil, or “Dr. Phil” (as he preferred to be called) a student from Seagull Alternative School, informed me that he started eating tofu because it is healthier.
As far as best practices go with serving this population, I recommend a certain pathway to help teach health promotion. First, reflect on the present group of special individuals you are working with. That is, what level of functionality are they? Are they high functioning, moderately functioning, nonverbal, etc.? Second, conduct a learning needs assessment – meaning, decide what the students/athletes need to know in order to have a healthier lifestyle. Next, develop a lesson plan that will cater to the specific IDD group that is in need. Now, implement that lesson plan and create fun activities that will make this learning experience worthwhile. Finally, I recommend evaluating the lesson plan and discover what the successes and challenges were. This evaluation will help see which goals were achieved and what still needs improvement.
It is always a pleasure working with Karlyn Emile and Special Olympics Florida and I look forward to the meeting new participants and continuing promoting healthier lifestyles!