With the 2008 Summer Olympics soon to be underway, I can’t help but think of the work that each athlete puts into his or her respective sports. Michael Phelps has America’s spotlight on him as he looks to winning the gold medal in swimming more times than any other American in Olympic history. To get to his athletic level, Michael has had to spend many years perfecting his skill. Aside from his raw talent, you could easily assume he woke up early most mornings, worked out on many occasions throughout the day, and went through multiple programs to increase his responses, his speed, his endurance, and his overall technique. You could also assume, like most athletes, he sacrificed many other activities to dedicate himself to his sport. Most areas of his life have been altered in pursuit of his dream, including his eating habits and leisure time activities. In addition, his family made many sacrifices to allow Michael to pursue his dream.
Children with special needs are a lot like Olympians, no matter their actual athletic gifts. Unbeknownst to most, kids with special needs and their families sacrifice a great deal. Many of these children require numerous trips to physicians due to unique medical needs. Parents must take special time for the doctors’ visits, and try to decipher, along with the physician, what is best for their child. The medical costs can be overwhelming and cause more sacrifices for every member of the family. In addition, many parents are faced with difficult decisions and greatly increased care responsibilities, which creates a tremendous amount of emotional and physical stress. The children may go through multiple forms of therapy to help them eat, breathe, walk, bathroom themselves, and communicate. To most people, these abilities are taken for granted. To individuals with challenges, they are battles to be fought and won. They must work hard every day of their lives to do things most of us do without thinking.
In addition to these challenges, these children may have few peers. Their recreational activities can be diminished based on their mobility and medical condition. These children don’t need our pity, however. Rather, they need to be recognized for their abilites. For it is their abilities, tenacity, and spirit that allows them to survive, to adapt, and to teach us what “CAN” really means. Our kids with special needs are very strong, you see.
The medals some Olympians will earn and then wear around their necks are beautiful and intricately designed. But they will never compare to the beauty of a gleam in a child’s eyes or the smile on their face as they learn or accomplish something new. And it will never replace the pride of that child’s parent.
Olympic athletes are worthy of being admired. But when the Games are over and the medals start to collect dust on the shelf, our children will continue their struggles to learn and grow.