Guest Editor: Katherine Pawlukiewicz, B.S./B.A.
Dietetics & Nutrition/ Psychology
Florida International University
When I came to intern with Karlyn Emile at Special Olympics, I had no idea what to expect; but I do know I was nervous. Having never worked with the IDD population, or even really having close contact with an IDD individual before, I didn’t know quite how I was supposed to treat them or act towards them. I could only describe my previous interactions with them as awkward, averting my eyes and looking away distractedly not knowing what to do. I didn’t have to fret too long though because on my first day I was greeted with many “hi”s and “what’s your name” as soon as I walked into the building, only to be followed by multiple excited hugs at my first class. The IDD population are some of the most genuinely warm and welcoming people I have ever met in my life.
We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses, and the IDD population is no different. While they may have difficulties intellectually or developmentally their true strength is in their acceptance of each other, their willingness to help one another, their happiness in the little things, and their unabashed dancing skills. Luckily it is infectious as well. It is hard not to be joyful when you are in a room full of people that greet you with the biggest smiles and you can tell they are genuinely ecstatic to see you. I truly wish that all people expressed these qualities.
Best practice with dealing with this population? Treat them exactly for what they are…PEOPLE! Sure a little extra patience and understanding is required, but we all could use a little practice in that area couldn’t we? The clients I have met at Lucanus Developmental Center have touched my heart in a way I never imagined they could. I’m truly heartbroken that I have to leave them to move on to my next rotations. They have made me a better person, a more understanding person, a more tolerant person. I can confidently say that in the future when I see an IDD individual out in my day to day life, I will no longer avert my eyes and pretend to hurriedly look at something else. I will look them straight in the eyes, smile, and say “Hi! My name is Katie, what’s yours?” That is growth to who I am as a person, and I owe every single one of our students a huge thank you for that. They truly are exceptional individuals.