Perceptions of My Misconceptions
After learning that I would be completing my community nutrition rotation at Special Olympics Florida under the guidance of Karlyn Emile, I was truly elated because I had never worked with this population before. In the past, I would always hear dietetic interns from Florida International University express just how lucky they were to have experienced working with individuals with Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities (I/DD). So, like many others before me, I was up for the “challenge”. My close-mindedness prepared me to work with individuals, who were always in “constant pain”, “dependent”, and “confined to their wheelchair”. You see these were my misconceptions about this population. On my first day, I was informed that I would be conducting an educational computer class in which the clients were to learn about healthy eating through games. In addition, I would also help prepare the “Wellness Warriors” with their nutrition education project: The Super Foods. After meeting the clients for the first time, I quickly realized that my perceptions were incorrect.
They were always excited, never doubtful, and eager to learn. Their enthusiasm and positivity made my experience as a nutrition educator stress free. After working with them for a week, I was able to individually assess their learning needs in order for them to absorb as much information as possible from the lessons. I realized that some of them just needed repetition to remember the information, while others just needed the support of their peers. The moments that impacted me the most were definitely seeing them outside of class and hearing how much they enjoyed being a part of it. One moment in particular always stays with me. I remember one day after they learned about dairy, one student expressed to me how she felt confident to go back to her group home and tell her roommates why it’s better to have low-fat milk/dairy products. At that moment I realized that they are always willing and ready to learn but are often neglected due to their disability.
The best advice I can offer anyone who is willing to work with this population is not to assume. Do not assume that they are incapable of certain tasks because of their impairments. Even though they each require individual attention because of different learning needs, they also work best by learning and supporting one another. Nutrition education can easily be promoted by patience and encouragement as a group. I’ve found that they are more willing to try new things if they see their peers trying new things. Also, repetition is key! They learn best when exposed to the same material over a period of time. This can be beneficial when helping them prepare for presentations or when helping them teach one another. Overall, working/teaching this population can be easy once you take the time to assess them individually in order to best cater to their needs.