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THE OLYMPIC SYMBIOSIS OF ATHLETES WITH AN INTELLECTUAL DISABILITY
10 March 2014

Claude Belley, Executive Director, Federation of Quebec CRDITEDs

Diane Morin, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology, UQAM and holder of the Chair of Intellectual Disabilities and Behavioural Disorders

Daniel Granger, President, Special Olympics Quebec

During the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, thousands of Quebec athletes with intellectual disabilities spent many hours watching their idols, riveted to the television set or their computer screens. They identified with these skiers, skaters and hockey players, whose years of hard work were now culminating in outstanding achievements or, in some cases, bitter disappointments.

They remembered the unforgettable experiences of the eight Quebec athletes who picked up 16 medals at the Special Olympics World Winter Games in PyeongChang,South Korea in February 2013. Not forgetting the highly successful Special Olympics Quebec Summer Games, in Pointe-Claire, last July, which drew 700 athletes from all regions.

Sport, health and healthy lifestyles are just as important to people living with intellectual disabilities (ID) as they are to the general population. For such people, these three dimensions of life are closely linked to their social integration.

Recent research conducted in Quebec shows that 79% of people with an ID also have a physical health problem. Yet, while they may encounter the same health problems as other people, they often have difficulty expressing their needs. Their usage of services is also different. Compared to the general population, persons with an ID consult less for vision problems, they take more medications and women are less likely to take PAP tests. In terms of lifestyle, persons with an ID get less physical exercise and in fewer ways. They also experience more problems of overweight and obesity.

In light of these realities, various institutions and organizations are taking action to improve the “health checklist.” There are now 20 rehabilitation centres in intellectual disabilities and developmental disorders (known as CRDITEDs) in Quebec. Every day, they offer specialized services in adaptation and rehabilitation to more than 23,000 persons with an ID and their families. Recognizing that the situation is worrying, they are increasingly focusing, in their various forms of intervention, on detection of physical health problems, promotion of sports and education on healthy lifestyles.

For its part, Special Olympics Quebec has added a health and healthy lifestyle component to its sport activities. As a result, three "Healthy Athletes" clinics were incorporated into the 2013 Summer Games, offering examinations of the eyes, feet and teeth. The clinics were managed by healthcare professionals who used approaches and tools specially adapted to this clientele.

Sport, health and healthy lifestyles can become powerful vectors in promoting the inclusion and social participation of people with an ID. We need to rethink our general policies, improve our approaches, diagnose better and intervene more quickly and effectively. We must also recognize the rights of these individuals and give them the means to exercise those rights so they can pursue their dreams and continue to aspire to their Olympic symbiosis.

 


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