Monday, March 28, 2016

Play Unified: Inclusion at Heart

"What is Unified Sports?" from the Special Olympics website:

"Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

Our opponent is intolerance. Only shoulder-to-shoulder, as teammates together, can we defeat it."

When Lucas was born, I started navigating the world through an unfamiliar disability lens, which meant I had to evaluate and determine what programs I felt were in Lucas' best interest. The ultimate goal is not just creating a more just, accepting and inclusive world for him to live in, but one where he can rise to his full potential and become independent. That may be a tall order, but hey, I'm an optimist and there are and have been others who share the same philosophy.

From the get go, I never wanted Lucas segregated, but instead, for him to exist in the "real world" fending for himself among typical peers. At only 3 months, he joined an early intervention program with a blend of typical and special needs infants. When other babies were walking independently, Lucas shuffled from one piece of furniture to the next to simulate walking -- there was a look of determination in his eyes and a desire to keep up. I knew then that modeling was key to his development in every area and I was hooked on inclusion.

Up until now, I had the opinion that Special Olympics was "nice" but not the right place for Lucas because it was segregated. Nonetheless, I started inquiring about having him become an athlete because he's now old enough and has become a crazed soccer fan all on his own -- I'm an admittedly fair-weather Sounders fan, and enjoy the event as much for the game as for the socializing. 

This past week, there was a "Play Unified" training camp and I liked the sound of it, especially because it would feature a few Sounders alumni and thought Lucas would enjoy it. My mind was blown and my opinion of Special Olympics catapulted! I was so impressed and heartened to see the tremendous amount of effort and resources being poured into this concept of having people with intellectual disabilities and those without playing together in a fully inclusive setting. Now, we're talking! Equally, I was excited to see Microsoft backing the initiative. Watching Lucas play with pro athletes and a mix of typical and others with ID was truly a highlight of my year so far! I couldn't wipe the grin off my face. Here's to the beginning of Lucas' career as a Special Olympics athlete!