My involvement with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) commenced during my 9-week community rotation as a dietetic intern with Karlyn Emile at Special Olympics Florida-Healthy Community. The client’s spirit, passion, and determination have brought so much joy into my life; words cannot describe how I feel at the end of each day when I leave the center.
I’ve never had the opportunity of working with individuals with IDD, although I grew up around friends that have kids with IDD. Nonetheless, when I was assigned to do my internship at the Healthy Community, I knew it would be a meaningful experience that would touch my life for years to come.
My commitment to this community has been demonstrated through various altruistic activities including, (a) weekly nutrition classes, (b) empowering the clients regarding proper hydration, (c) teaching them about probiotics intake for a healthy digestive system, and (d) employing techniques for identifying healthy fats. Additionally, I have taken part in teaching the 9-week Social Wellness pilot that involves various weekly topics, in-class activities, discussions and take-home homework to further test their knowledge and encourage family participation.
Because persons with IDD are at higher risk of having mental ill health and developing a depressive disorder, including stress eating; the main goal is to teach them techniques that may help them reduce anxiety, stress, and depression.
There are many memories that I will carry with me forever, but the one that impacted me the most is their capacity to learn; contrary to popular beliefs. I walk through the hallways every day, and I see almost every single one of them holding their water bottles, and saying to me “Hi my friend” or “See I’m drinking water.” I really enjoy it when I have to go grab them from class; some of them automatically run to give me hugs and proudly hand their homework to me. The first time it happened brought tears to my eyes.
As a nutrition educator and soon to be Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, the most valuable lessons that I have learned and would like to share with anyone interested in working with this population is to have patience, use reverberation during lectures to reinforce key points. Furthermore, always ask questions from each person in the group. Go over previous topics before moving on to a different topic, even if it seems repetitive; it is reinforcing the desired behavior. Both kindness and compassion are vital to the integrity of caring for this population. Without these qualities, we lose both selfless commitment and/or passion for their overall well-being. Overall, keep an open mind/heart; you will learn so much from them.
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